Sunday, September 15, 2013



I’m a great believer in work routines—particularly when they have been set up to combat a known weakness.

In my case, I suffer from certain memory issues—apparently a form of dyslexia—which affect both my short term memory in various ways (together with certain other areas).

Oddly enough, my memory can be quite good if I have a prompt, and I have a real talent for making connections between all sorts of seemingly unrelated matters; but without prompts, I have a tendency to flounder. This is not good in any situation, particularly if you are a writer where a quick brain is de rigeur. However, a quick brain requires raw material to process at speed—which, in turn, requires a well developed memory to feed it data (also at speed).

I have tried all sorts of workarounds to improve my memory over the years—with varying degrees of success—but one area I have long pursued zealously is collecting data about areas which interest me (and I have wide interests). This used to take the form of hand-written notes, books, and audio recordings. Now, my data obsession is near entirely computer based. I say ‘near’ because I also rely on well-labeled lever-arch files and—of course—books. Here, the mere sight of the file or book is often enough to act as a prompt. For that reason, often when I am stuck—which, fortunately, does not happen that often—I like to wonder along the book-shelves. It rarely fails.

For about 25 years, I kept virtually all my computer based data in askSam—but when, sadly, it became clear that software was no going to be developed further, after searching high and low (and experiencing one epic disaster), I eventually ended up with Evernote, where I am proud to say I am a paying Premium customer. It is worth it.

One of the great conveniences of Evernote is Evernote Web Clipper, which essentially allows you to capture an article, a full screen, or a section you have marked, with one click. That data is then saved on both your local hard drive and in the cloud—so you can access it from anywhere. The synchronization is excellent.

The trick to retrieving data is to index (tag) it correctly. Yes, you can use free text search, but you tend to get too many results. In contrast, indexing with your own keywords makes the results more focused.

Keyword indexing (tagging) does slow the process but, in my opinion, is best done immediately after the data is captured. For nearly 18,000 pieces of data collected over the last couple of years, I trained myself to do just that. And then Evernote changed the way Clipper operates! Now, it appears (I’m still exploring the thing) you have to tag the piece after saving—a slower procedure in my opinion, and positively not the way my muscle memory has learned to work. It is currently crouched in a corner having a stiff Scotch.

Evernote—what have you done! My muscle memory is having a nervous breakdown and I’m in shock. A pillar of my working world has crumbled.

It’s tough being a writer.

THE BOOK ‘SMARTER THAN YOU THINK’ This looks fascinating and gets to grips with that key question: Is all this technology making us smarter or dumber? Check out a marvelous discussion on – a commendable web site.

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