In response to a question on the /r/writing subreddit, I decided to write this post. The question was:
For the past couple of years, I’ve been doing all of my note-taking, rough drafts, and free writes in cheap composition notebooks. The problem is that by making an effort to write and study writing every day I’ve filled about 5 of these books and my 6th is about 80% full, and these books are not organized in any way so the notes, roughs, and free writes are all mixed together so a page that starts with Notes on Story by Robert Mckee might suddenly turn into an outline on the next page. Is there a way I can organize my future notes into something useful instead of just throwing more on the pile?
I’d like to find a way to do this while having only a single notebook I carry around with me.
When I take notes on what I’m reading during my devotional time, I hand write them into a Moleskine journal. I do this because if I were to write these notes online, I would find myself entirely too distracted. But I also need to keep them organized. So this is how I do it:
Date and Tags
On every post I include the date. Simple enough. I surround the date with a box to denote its metadata rather than part of what I’m writing. Each post also gets tagged with what the topics are. If it is a book I’m reading, it usually gets an abbreviated tag. For example “A Rattling of Sabers” becomes “AROS”. Each book of the Bible that I’m studying also gets tagged. Topical tags are also included.
For example, in 2015 I was studying the Old Testament book of Hosea, and the topics were Discipleship and Ministry.
Particularly when I’m studying a specific book, and have other journal entries in between that aren’t related to that study, I’ll use “next” and “previous” tags. These are set up like tags but reference the page numbers of the previous and next reference to that topic. Since each page of my journal gets numbered, it’s pretty easy to do. As an example, if my current note is on page 20 and the previous note is on page 17, I will mark the note with a backward arrow and the page number. <–17. When I go back to page 17 to find that reference, I’ll add a next tag for page 20 like this 20–>
In this example, I was studying Andrew Murray’s Abiding in God, and I was on page 80. The Previous and Next references were 79 and 81, respectively.
I also create an index for the journal. Each tag gets an index and I list the page numbers for each reference. As you can see in this image, I occasionally type up the index when it gets too messy, then add to it until I don’t have any more room. Rinse and Repeat. When the journal is full, I print a final copy of the journal and paste it in the back.