Chasing my tale

I’ve got good news and bad news.

The good news is that I’m going to stop talking about Evernote so gorram much. Not that I don’t still think it’s made of AWESOME, but I have a lot more interesting topics to cover.

The bad news is that I have a lot of more interesting topics to cover. My relative silence recently is nearing an end.

So, in the interest of “What personal life? I have no boundaries, I’m a blogger!” here’s what’s on my plate.

I’ve gotten hooked on the best-damn-writing-podcast-I-should-have-founded-but-didn’t, The Dead Robots Society. This is a group of folks who talk the talk about writing on a regular basis. They’re serious about writing but not serious about themselves, which means they avoid the pretentious puffery so common in writing discussions. It’s a fun, insightful podcast even if you write something other than SF.

(I even dig the name, so similar to the writing critique group I’ve led here in Denver for ten years now, the Dead Asimovs Society.)

And since the Robots and their guests do a lot of podcast fiction, they’ve inspired me to give it a shot. I will be podcasting “Do Over!” first, since it’s only 17,000 words, and then if that works out without starting any major wars with third world nations, I’ll be podcasting my first novel, Between Heaven and Hell. BHH will be produced semi-weekly, with new episodes every Monday and Thursday. This will give me three 10-week seasons, one for each section of the book. I am NOT updating the book into the present day. The events in the novel take place from 1997-2000. This means they were before Google. Before 9/11. Before YouTube. Before smartphones and before Twitter. It would be a very different book if it were set today, less than 15 years later, and I don’t have time to write such a book unless, of course, a paying publisher really wanted me to.

A few notes about the podcast. While I admire the work of podcast novel pioneers like Scott Sigler, JC Hutchins, Phillipa Ballantine and Mur Lafferty, I’m not going to do what they do. A lot of podcast novels border on full-on audio dramatizations, with sound effects, voice actors for each part and well… production values. That’s not my style. I’m a total Audible.com audiobook junkie and was hooked on that style of audio fiction before the term podcast was even coined, much less applied to fiction. So what you’ll get from me will be more of the Nathan Lowell-style straight reading of the text, just me, a microphone and whatever ambient noise makes it into my car (which is the quietest place I have access to in order to record). If I get really fancy, I might splice in intro and outro music. Maybe.

But that’s not all I’m doing. I’m also going to try to finish the first draft of Ghost Ronin by Halloween. This is an less an updated and expanded novel version of the “In Shining Armor” screenplay on my blog as a new novel loosely based on that screenplay. Lots of new stuff, new characters, new motivations, new ending. I hope I can pull it off because I’m doing some interesting stuff with it. I’m about 20k words in, and hope to get to 75-80k by Halloween.

Why finish by Halloween? Because the day after Halloween is the first day of NaNoWriMo! This year for NaNo I have a pretty interesting project. It’s a story set in the Unification Chronicles universe, long after the events in Between Heaven and Hell. The novel will be about a lone human trying to survive stranded on an alien homeworld in the middle of a civil war between the male and female aliens. In addition to being a cool story in its own right, it’s a trial run to see how the setting works. I have lots of ideas for this setting down the line, a galaxy united by war against a common enemy and then torn apart once that enemy was defeated. The story of that war, the Nemesis War, is a trilogy I had abandoned, but am now using as backstory for this much richer canvas. I actually stopped writing the first book in that trilogy 80k words in, just a few scenes from finishing it, and learned much about the aliens—the Sendeni—we’ll see in this Sins of the Mothers.

(yes, I’m bloody well aware of the pattern you see here, and I’m working on it)

And finally, when I’m done with NaNoWriMo, completely finishing the first draft no matter how many words over 50k or days into December it takes, I’m going to finish the first draft of my NaNo ‘06 project: Homeworld, my Mars book. Every SF writer, it would seem, eventually has to tackle Mars, and this is my take on the subject. The elevator pitch for it is “Bill Gates goes to Mars,” but there’s a lot more to it and I’ve had a blast getting as far as I’ve gotten, maybe halfway into the third act.

Lastly, I’m going to try to take this blog back to the old days of Writing On Your Palm, and by that I mean a new article posted every Monday. Topics will be the usual suspects: mobile technology, writing, publishing and other items of interest to the gadget-obsessed writer.

This should leave me with three novels in first draft form, and halfway through a podcast novel around New Years. Big plans for 2010 include lots and lots of rewriting and getting my own apartment. Also, naps. I’ll talk about the process of all of it here, in the hope that I might at the very least serve as a cautionary tale for some of you.

So that’s me. What are YOU writing?

Evernote and the Google problem

We’ve all seen the new Bing commercials showing people suffering from search engine overload. I can identify with those thus afflicted, since I go through that every day. Only it’s not hitting me when I search Google; it’s hitting me when I search Evernote.

Earlier this week I hit 6,000 notes in Evernote. That’s a lot of notes. That’s a huge, thundering herd of notes, the likes of which used to roam horizon to horizon on the Colorado plains. Wait, I think that was buffalo. But even so, my notes were out of control.

This isn’t Evernote’s fault. It does a dandy job of collecting and keeping all my notes. Things, perhaps obviously, go into the system rather easily. Getting the particular stuff I’m looking for back out at any particular time can be a problem.

Like Google’s index of the entire interwebs, once you hit a certain critical mass of notes, any search brings back too many matches. This forces you to browse through the list of matches to your search term when browsing a list and finding what you want with a Mark I eyeball is exactly what you’d hoped to avoid. Evernote provides lots of ways to narrow the search by content, time and place created and all sorts of other metadata, and allows you to save that combination of search criteria if you need them again in the future. But even so, there’s lots and lots of stuff in my Evernote database that doesn’t strictly need to be there. More to the point, there’s lots of stuff in my Evernote database that I’ll never see again. So why lug it around, even digitally?

I think the source of my issue is that Evernote is so free-form that I’m inclined to use it for everything so that I have all of my data in one place, even though other solutions would work better for certain kinds of content. I should keep my image files in Picasa or Flickr instead of Evernote. I should store my to-read-later articles in Instapaper instead of Evernote. I should keep my drafts in Google Docs, Writeroom or on a flash drive rather than in Evernote. I should keep my tasks in ToodleDo instead of Evernote. I think if I put into Evernote only what I knew I planned to keep so I could use it later, the data size would be manageable and it wouldn’t take nearly as long for the iPhone version to finish syncing and let me look up whatever I opened it for.

But before I go and do something rash (I have an inner R2-D2, and I’m not afraid to use it!), I thought I’d ask my readers (at least the ones that use Evernote, and I know there are a few of you). What do you store in Evernote and what do you store elsewhere? Why?

Notebooks or tags with Evernote?

Evernote notebooks and tags

I’ve gotten a few questions about how I use tags and notebooks in Evernote. Now, while I think one of the cool things about Evernote is that you can set it up however makes the most sense to you personally, I realize it helps to see how other people do it, if only to rule out what doesn’t make sense for you. So in that spirit, here’s the system I’ve developed so far.

My primary notebook is creatively named Default, and that’s where all of my notes start out and most of them end up. All but two of my other notebooks (Dish Network for day job stuff and Images for notes consisting entirely of pictures) are named for various writing projects, including a notebook for JeffKirvin.net. As you can see from the item counts, if you factor out the work and image notebooks, none of the project-oriented notebooks come anywhere near the size of the main notebook. They are handy, though, for quickly seeing everything related to a specific project in one place.

Tags are harder to keep organized. I have only six top level tags, and could probably get rid of two of them if I tried. But out of those, I really only use the first two (and their subtags): !GTD and !Reference. They’re prefaced with exclamation points so they sort automatically to the top.

The !GTD tag itself is never actually used at all. But it contains all my GTD contexts, as well as another tag, !Vision, for more Covey-style planning, goals, roles and values stuff.

For the vast majority of stuff in my Evernote database, each note will have either one or more @ tags representing the context in which I need to address the note contents, or it will be tagged simply with !Reference. I used to use a lot of keyword tags, but over time found I couldn’t keep them standardized well enough and that Evernote’s built in content search was more than sufficient to pull up notes I might have forgotten otherwise.

The only other tag worth mentioning is Bookmarks, which is where I put stuff that formerly would have gone into Delicious or Foxmarks (now Xmarks, or so I hear). Though honestly I’ve gotten so accustomed to typing whatever I’m looking for into the search bar on my browser that I hardly use bookmarks at all anymore. Starting to see a pattern here?