Getting organized

Organization seems to be a never-ending quest. Nevertheless, I pursue it.

I need to organize the many story ideas and half-written projects lying around. I would like to be able to track and sort by status (draft, edit, concept, etc.) as well as using software to develop, store and track ideas for stories and/or characters. Tracking submissions would be good too.

I’m open for any suggestions. Scrivener templates or 3rd party. I need to run it on a Mac. Online, web-based solutions are cool too.

You might want to take a look at either EagleFiler or Yojimbo. Both applications have a similar intention, but come at it from different angles. Where they are similar: Both are extremely simple. You don’t have to worry about setting up a great huge lot of database fields and worrying about whether or not you have enough of them. Both are organised by keywords (tags), so you can expand or contract how much organisation exists simply by adding or removing a keyword to a document. Both let you create or store existing documents with ease; tag them (‘important’, ‘submitted’, ‘draft’,… you get the idea); sort things into containers like in the Finder.

If both are a bit too simple for what you need, DEVONthink[pro] would probably be the next place to look.

And, if you are adventurous, the ultimate information managers, Tinderbox, or Filemaker Pro. The former is a difficult to define quasi outliner/concept mapper/programmable information manager. The latter is your more standard relational database package.

I’ve collected all my story ideas in a file of Circus Ponies NoteBook, and each time I want to find ideas on a particular theme, I go to the word index of this general catalogue. For example, if I want to write something about ghosts, I’ll look for every idea I’ve already written, that contains the word ‘ghosts’.

I prefer this approach to a simple thematic sorting, since it lets me find links between different themes. Using the above example, I might have stored a father/son tale under the folder/page ‘Family’. By searching for the word ‘ghost’, I might discover that the father of that story was recollecting of a ghost tale told by his father (the grandfather).

Key words are very important for my way of organizing thoughts. The more free the search is, the better.


so I started with all the suggestions you have given me, and I finally found a recent comparison between all of the top contenders…and what application was chosen as the top app for collecting and organizing web information?


Scrivener … -reviewed/

So I’m back to square one. I’m off to search for Automator scripts. Anyone know of how to use Scrivener as a drag-and-drop tray? :confused:

I’m not sure I understand exactly your need, because I believe Scrivener should be perfect for what you’re asking for.

A drag-and-drop-tray: do you mean this kind of shelf?

If so, the one you see in this picture is that of Together. You’ve already looked at Yojimbo, and there’s also Soho notes that provides a shelf. In any case, if Yojimbo wasn’t ok for your need, I don’t believe Together or Soho notes would be ok either (although I believe Together is a superior offering).

This having been said, and since I don’t know how much at ease you’re with Scrivener, I’ll offer some suggestions that might or might not look obvious to you:

  • Although Scrivener doesn’t provide a shelf, you could always drag and drop to Scrivener’s main window. On that regard, you might argue that it’s impossible to do so when Scrivener isn’t open, and that you don’t want to always keep it open; so that wouldn’t be a practical possibility for you. Well, here’s a great workaround I learned on drag the note to Scrivener’s icon on the dock, and without releasing your mouse button, press the spacebar. This will launch Scrivener without having yet dropped your note. All you need to do, afterwards, is to drop it where you want it in the window.
  • Scrivener provides labels and statuses you can apply to each and every note. You can modify them or even add more, so for example, you could add “concept” to the already existing “draft” and etc., and afterwards apply “concept” to any concept note. Scrivener allows you to sort by status, and it even allows you to see, for example, only those notes that are “concept” notes. Look into saved searches if that’s what you need.
  • As already suggested, you can do all sorts of things by using tags and saved searches. If you’re not familiar with tagging, that’s something to explore. Scrivener is almost perfect in its tagging support.
  • If all you want is an application smaller than Scrivener to organize your notes, you might want to take a look at xPad, voodoopad or even Notational Velocity.

Finally, there’s also EverNote that’s going to be released soon for the mac. I don’t know if it’ll be able to sort by status, but otherwise it seems to support all your needs.

Hope this helps, and please keep me informed if you ever find the solution to your need.

Welcome aboard Scrivener Daniel, Happy Sailing :stuck_out_tongue:
Take care

Also, while Scrivener is open, the Scratchpad provides a convenient place to drop text information and compose short notes. It all goes into one text area in the Scratchpad, but you can select parts of it and append those selections to documents in the Scrivener project (with the option to create new dated entries if desired), periodically. The Scratchpad (Cmd-/ by the way), ghosts itself when not active, and in Leopard, Float mode keeps it visible in all Spaces.

This device is all I need for text capture. It doesn’t really serve for file capture though.

I’ve wrestled with this for a while. I use Eaglefiler for organising web content that I just generally keep.

I use Things for organising my planned writing projects so that I have a project for everything that is ongoing within which I can store emails, actions etc with deadlines to followup. It is also useful for having the Areas which I use for generic bits and bobs. For instance I have Areas called Dialogue, Scenes, Characters, Short story ideas, Film ideas, Career Development and one called Current Projects which contains actions relating to the projects I’ve defined. I used to use Omnifocus but wanted something separate to manage my writing projects. Things fits the bill for me.

I use Scrivener to store everything relating to a project I am actually working on. So everything goes in there, synopsis, characters, research (inc web pages) as well as the draft itself. Submission tracking would be done in Things.

Hope this helps.



I second Tripper re: Things. I use it myself to organize my tasks/todos. It really might fit your bill. Again, you’ll probably want to use tags to categorise your “concepts” and etc. Things’ tagging support is the finest I’ve seen in the few task managers I’ve tried. I never have found any piece of software that fitted me enough for me to continue using it to organize my tasks more than a few months. As of now, I’ve been using Things for two months and I believe I’ll continue using it. Its interface feels so… relaxing, I’d say, while being so functional. And Tripper is right, it might be up to your collection needs. Oh yea, you can even define a system-wide keyboard shortcut that’ll bring a small quick note/task entry window, à la HUD (heads-up display). You could even create an automator action to bring this HUD and put it in your Dock for mouse access. Fine piece of software, and it’s still only an alpha/beta release (really stable).

It’s incredible how much, after around 25 years of personal computing, that we still don’t have any tool that perfectly fits most of our personal workflows. Good luck to find your nirvana!

Without wanting to sound like a broken record, have you considered not using software to achieve this?

Buy yourself 100 (or 500, or whatever you need) manila tab-cut folders, the type that are basically just a folded piece of card with one side longer than the other (and possibly cut into a tab, but you get the idea). Write the name of each project on the front. One folder per project, no matter how small. Collate your notes for each project, and move them (or print them out and then put the printouts) into the folders.

Then use a job sheet of some kind, taped to the front of each folder, to track progress.

If you’re only at the stage of “story ideas and half-written projects”, just continue making notes with pen and paper and slip them into the relevant project folder. When you’re ready to commit those ideas, copy them out into the relevant Scrivener project. (You do have a Scrivener project for each of these ideas, right? :wink:)

It may not have the computerised “search and metadata” elegance of a compiler like Yojimbo or Devonthink, but there is little (actually nothing, in my opinion) as intuitive and easy to use as pen and paper. Also, you don’t have to remember to back your notebooks up…

(Obligatory link: I use a system very much like this, adapted from the GTD method, and you can read about it here.)

What an interesting topic! And I thought I was weird (and I certainly wasn’t going to tell anyone what I was doing) when I started combing my documents and rescuing all of those detailed notes from–would you believe–Excel. As an accountant, I was thoroughly familiar with Excel, so it was a natural for me. For years I noted intricate-but-linked information in Excel because of the little tabs, while bitching to myself that Word was not smart enough to institute little tabs, even as an option. I even had an Excel file for poetry that I especially liked, each with its little tab.

I’m sure you can see where this is going: All of those Excel projects are going over to Scrivener, which does little tabs so much better than Excel ever could. I have a journal on Scrivener, a “project” consisting of notes taken at writing seminars, another “project” of scraps of writing that may become something someday, and I’ll be starting another project for poetry…And there’s more, much more.

It all keeps me from writing, which seems to be my most important goal.

I wonder if I might be allowed to broaden the discussion. As a newcomer to both the Mac world and Scrivener (which is the most amazing program I have ever seen), I am trying to determine if there are good reasons to use an information manager other than Scrivener for handling background research. Scrivener seems to have tremendous capacity for handling different data formats and for searching. And what could be better than having all the background research for a project in the same program that one uses to write about it. Would anyone be able to comment about the negative aspects of using Scrivener exclusively to manage project data?

Looking forward to your thoughts (before I get too far along with my first project).

I prefer to keep my research data in DevonThink Pro and write in Scrivener. In the Research Folder I place essential items: online resources, character back stories, an outline of key dates and places. In DTP, I place the welter of texts, images, PDFs and URLs that may inspire or inform some writing.

Each Scrivener file is a project, while DTP is a data repository that may serve many projects. The list of file types it can import is lengthy, and the searches are wicked fast. But if you have no plans to use your research files in other projects, then Scrivener alone may suffice.

I also, despite the deathless enthusiasm of my previous post, have learned that Journler is better for journals than Scrivener. However, every time I explore new ground with Scrivener I am totally blown away by its capabilities. And Journler has a couple of serious flaws–most notably the inability to go to a given date, instead of paging backward through month after month.

The main advantage of Journler over Scrivener on this behalf is that Spotlight finds single entries, not only a document as a whole.

Which is no word against Scrivener; after all, Scrivener is not designed for the purpose Journler is designed ford.

From my experience, I would recommend against all solutions that bury their storage within a proprietary database from where you won’t get it out again without weeks of hard labour. When I switched from Windows to the Mac, I could carry with me years of research material collected from the internet thanks to the fact that it consisted simply of files in standard data formats - RTF, HTML, TXT, JPG, GIF etc. (some as Word-DOC, which is almost standard and can be read by a lot of programs) - stored within a large tree of folders in folders. (I have a folder INFOBASE, and below a folder for every subject that I’m interested in. And that’s it.)

To take this with me a simple copy was enough - several minutes. Now, on the Mac, I have Spotlight (and additional programs like SpotInside and Easyfind), which makes searching more easy than it ever was and is a solution even for those cases when I had difficulties to decide in which category an entry would fit.

Besides this, I had started to work with an askSam-database on the PC for special subjects. askSam is more or less the grandfather of all information managers (its pendant on the Mac might be DevonThink Pro); however, not uncommon for grandfathers, it’s a bit difficult to handle and definitely on the decline meanwhile. To move this database to the Mac was a chore - hours and hours of copy and paste, some WORD macro programming etc. - and a lot of things got lost in the process, for example all internal links.

So, my decision as for as the research for my books is concerned was to continue with simple folders. If you write books, continuity and a long-time perspective is a must. I don’t know what will be in ten years. Maybe Steven Jobs will be gone, Apple sold to Microsoft, and I have to return to my old DOS-PC… :frowning:

Journler is not inable, it’s just a bit difficult. In Preferences:Appearance choose “Use small calendar”. Then you can simply enter a date, and you’re there.

This drove me nuts, too. Then I realised that if you turn on the small calendar mode, you get a date field with entry points. Using that, you can jump wherever you like.

That’s why I went for Together. It has real folder structures you have access to in the finder, all added files keep there names, and as a default the first words of a note become their file names. No “entry 1534” in the Finder or “Friday, March 8th, 8:20pm” in the program (for which Journler of course isn’t to blame at all because it was made for journaling).

Together is not perfect (version 2.1, announced for, I think, June, sounds promising) but it’s general concept is very convincing.

First of all I like the multi-dimensional sorting of files – file types, folders, tags, labels, groups, smart groups. I’m not sure if I am using them the best possible way because I still have to adjust my brain to all these new possibilities (although the brain has plenty more dimensions of interconnecting content).

I don’t use Scrivener, which I love, for first note-taking because it is project oriented and I am not. Ideas, mostly tiny pieces, and found stuff come from everywhere and I don’t know where they will belong. Storing them in one “database” and because of that having easy and multiple ways of sorting them is of major importance for me.

If they mass together to a project of whatever kind I create the project in Scrivener and just drag all I need into it. Again, filenames are properly kept. Drag & drop from Journler does not work.

What an interesting question! It focuses exactly on the problem. And what interesting answers have already been written, thanks everybody!

My own experience has been that I don’t collect everything I should if I use Scrivener. Why? I’m not sure. It’s either because I’m someone who can’t make a regular habit of collecting and organizing things, or because Scrivener feels too, say, heavy-weight for this purpose. Or, most probably, a mix of both. (When I say Scrivener feels too heavy-weight for me, it’s because I’d like to not see its window appear at all when I collect something. If it does, I kind of fear complexity and resist collecting information. But I would still need to file and tag what I collect, just in a smaller, dedicated window, otherwise it would be useless to me. I prefer to tag as I collect than going through a discouraging “inbox” of recent untagged items that need to be organized, and look at it as a dull chore.)

But what I’ve just written about doesn’t answer the question at all. My feeling now goes along the line of what’s already been answered. I’d like the application to use the normal file system to store what it collects, like Together and EagleFiler do. That alone rules out Scrivener and DevonThink for me. In Scrivener, this might be achieved by introducing a new distinction. When you create a new project, everything pertaining to it will be stored in the project’s file (as it’s already done). But what’s new is that whatever the project you have open, there’s also a “global” space that’s available to add/edit/view in Scrivener. When you collect something new, you decide if it should go in the current project, any other one, or the global space. Or any combination of these. So for example, when you create a new project and when you later work on it, you can at any time browse your entire global repository for anything useful to copy/move into the project.

Until Scrivener adds these two features, I’ll rely on something else to store my collected items. No pun intended towards Scrivener, as we all know its chief goal is to allow us to write, not to compete against EagleFiler and the likes.

It’s interesting how long it takes one to really understand his need and find the proper solution.

I use Scrivener for data collection for each story I’m working on. I have DevonNote (which I used before Scrivener), but for general (i.e. not project-specific) note-storage, I’m using this obscure Apple app called … the Finder. Spotlight has really made a big difference here. EagleFiler and a couple of the others mentioned here sound interesting, but I’m not sure what they’d give me that storing notes as textedit/rtf (and occasionally pdf or html) files doesn’t, in the context of non-project-specific note storage. I’m willing to be persuaded otherwise.

Me too, brett. I collect everything I come across that might be interesting one day in my general information folder system, as RTF or HTML or whatever format, and only when I start a specific project, I create a Scrivener home for it, do specific searches within my material and put whatever I think I’ll need as a reference into the Research area of the Scrivener file, which I divide in subjects to have the material organized.

Or the other way round: When I’m writing a first short outline and realize I have to research specific topics or have specific questions answered, these become folders under Research and a red label: My “to research list”. Later I work to fill them and to answer the questions.