Michaeline: Organize your Notes with Artificial Intelligence

Modern computers can help you unravel the enigma that is going to be your novel. Use it to store -- and find -- your notes. (A Bombe computing device, via Wikimedia Commons)

Modern computers can help you unravel the enigma that is going to be your novel. Use it to store — and find — your notes. (A Bombe computing device, via Wikimedia Commons)

Almost every writer does research. Some are lucky enough to be able to keep it all in their heads, but most of us need to take notes. It doesn’t matter if your notes are about Regency era dresses, or aesthetically pleasing scale patterns for dragons. Our notes are important ways to help expand our memory capacity. And our computer age allows us to take a phenomenal number of notes! Letter-perfect copies, pasted into documents; PDFs downloaded and saved for leisurely perusal; and one of my currently favorite tools, PRTSC (aka the “print screen” button).

Sometimes a website will have a striking image or a pleasing pattern of text. Or maybe you’re just in a hurry, and don’t want to take the time to transcribe a passage of text on an image or PDF. Or maybe, you can’t copy and paste. This is when that button comes in handy.

By the way, I’m talking about using PRTSC for taking notes for personal use, which I think falls under fair use. As soon as you make those notes public in a blog or printed publication, you have to worry about copyright issues. More on that in a couple of paragraphs.

One problem with PRTSC, though, is that it isn’t searchable. So, if you take a few seconds to tag it, you can use the artificial intelligence of your computer to search and find the image later. I place my notes in a very large Word 2010 document, and it’s very easy to use the search function (press the CTRL and F buttons simultaneously) to search through 410 pages to find everything that I’ve tagged “weather.” It might be a good idea to put your tags at the very top (or bottom) of the document so you know what you’ve used. For example, if you tag one fashion plate “dress” and another “fashion” and a third “ala mode”, then your search is going to leave some things out, even though it makes perfect sense for natural intelligence that these things go together. An index of tags will let you group similar ideas under the same tag.

A second thing you should do is identify where your notes came from. I usually copy the URL and place it BELOW the image, and it’s a good idea to note the date you’ve taken it from the internet, and add a few details (such as site name). I’ve noticed this year that more websites declutter – there have been times when I’ve gone back to find an old piece of information, and it’s gone or behind a paywall. If you are armed with the information, you might be able to talk to the webmaster about releasing that information in return for attribution or publicity.

And this leads me back to the copyright issue – don’t steal people’s stuff. Paraphrase, remix to make new content, or quote them accurately and attribute properly. Asking for permission is always a nice touch. There’s a summary of copyright issues here.

This is what I do – I have a PC and I haven’t had time for the learning curve of using a writing program. If you use an Apple product or a program like Scrivener, what do you have to do to make sure you can accurately take notes, and find them later? (-: I bet there are a lot of strategies that work across platforms!

6 thoughts on “Michaeline: Organize your Notes with Artificial Intelligence

  1. I now have absolute verification that I’m lazy and undisciplined. I look for something I need, I use it, I bookmark the site, and I’m done. I also lose stuff that way sometimes. Oh, well! I’m in awe of your methodology.

    • My bookmarks are just a complete mess. I had this folder system all worked out, but since I never stick anything into it, I just have hundreds of bookmarks . . . I don’t know how long it would take for me to scroll down to my “pin it” button (probably 45 seconds or more) . . . which is one reason why I’ve started storing my pics on the computer instead of using pinterest. Most of them are still copy and paste . . . although in some cases, the pics are protected so I have to print screen them. If I ever want to use those images on a blog or something, I’ll have to have the info to get permission.

      The most frustrating thing is finding a golden nugget of detail, then going back a few months later and finding out that the page isn’t there — or the domain can’t be found! That’s why I started pasting everything into a Word document. Even if the site goes away, I’ll still have the info.

      (-: I’ve spent the whole week transcribing weather reports from February 1899, too. Now, they are searchable, and I’ve put the info in chronological order so when I rewrite, I’ll be able to slip into the scene by imagining the unusual weather. Also, it’s starting to influence my writing a little bit. The newspaper biz was a bit more colorful and wordy in 1899 than it is today!

    • I follow your system, Kay;-) . I recently bought a MacBook and the nice man in the Apple Store was trying to organise me with Evernote and Scrivener and heaven knows what else. I’m loving the Mac, but that’s my limit. I have lost a few references by bookmarking pages that then get taken down, but so far it hasn’t been a problem.

      Respect to you super-organised research divas!

  2. I use Evernote. The basic service, which has enough horsepower for my purposes, is free. You can type up notes, paste in pictures, ‘share’ website URLs with it through the click of a few buttons, organize by notebooks and/or note topics, and tag everything for searchability. But the thing I love most is I can access it from any computer with web access and from my phone.

    • I’ve heard a lot of good things about Evernote. My primary computer is a laptop which I take everywhere, but if I worked on a couple of devices, it would be really nice to have universal access.

      Right now, I back-up my notes on Dropbox, which means I could also use Dropbox across devices (if they have Word 2010). I haven’t bothered putting my picture files on Dropbox (I’m afraid of running out of room; too cheap to pay for the extra space).

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