Brain decryption.

So the most excellent Tim Who Is a Fox emailed me concerning resolution 5 and noted the following:

“I like keeping lists and notes, but my problem is I almost never go back to look at them. I keep story beginnings as files in my story folder, but I often lose track of those too. I know I am only really working on a half-dozen things at once (“working on” loosely) but my projects folder probably has hundreds of things in it, between finished things and other files and whatnot. Maybe I should resolve to go clean that up once a month so I don’t lose track of the things I really want to keep track of.”

The man has a point, and I am new to this tracking game.  I have friends who rely extensively on Dropbox.  I have friends who are Excel junkies.  Luddite me, I have 9 billion Word files (I’m not proud), some of which I’m slowly, bitterly converting to Excel.  My submission tracker is one of these; my wordcount tracker is another.  Excel is infinitely superior for managing anything involving numbers.  If I can track my finances with Excel, surely I can also track my subs.

But those are the obvious ones.  What about weirder things writers might want to track?  I mean, I’m desperately curious what people track, and how, and why.  In the hopes that other people on the Internet will take up this question and maybe offer suggestions, here’s what I’m doing now, for better or worse.

  •  Wordcount tracker (stolen from Kanakia)
  • Submission tracker
  • Author bios (I try to keep a stable of a dozen of these so that when I do pick up a pub I have one at the ready.  I had several boring bios go out before I realized I was wasting an opportunity for playfulness.  This habit’s stolen from James.)
  • New words.  Every time I hear or read a word I don’t know, neologism or otherwise, I log it.  Tracking from May until Dec of 2012 netted me 11 single-spaced pages of words.  I’ve been entering in their definitions, slowly; I’m up to N.  The plan is to print them out and spend a week or so memorizing the fun ones.  I started up a new New Word list for 2013, and duplicates don’t bother me.  Every time I hear a word and look up its definition, it lodges a bit more fiercely in my brain.  The act of logging these seems helpful, and my active vocabulary does seem to be slowly improving from story to story.
  • Interesting concepts.  Sometimes I run across something that is just plain fascinating, but it’s neither a word nor a quote.  I’ll look up some additional info and then sloppily copy paste the whole mess in to my Interesting Concepts file.  This is the file I think I’m least likely to use comprehensively, but I did return to it hunting for story ideas a few times.  It’s more like a grab-bag, I suppose, and I just try to keep it well stocked.  Again, I reset it; there’s a new file for 2013.  I’m hopeful that the arbitrary year-end switchover will prevent this system from descending into chaos over time.
  • Quotes.  This may be my favorite useful useless file.  This is where I keep potential epigraphs and quotes I may want to use in future works of criticism.  The 2012 file is all about suicide and grief.  If I wanted to add epigraphs to my dissertation, I’d have multiple options to choose from.
  • Book log/Want to read file/Music, movies, and artists.  I have three files just tracking books I’ve read, books I’d like to read (usually ones I’ve read reviews of on Strange Horizons or HTMLgiant or one of the other lit sites I read regularly), and then a dump file for other other art forms, since I’m absolutely worthless at keeping up with anything but the scene lit at moment (granted, for me that’s trying to keep up with nonfiction, genre fiction, and the novel/short-story markets…and I occasionally pick up books of poetry, too).
  • I have four separate idea files: fiction, nonfiction, criticism, and poetry.  Self-explanatory.  Organized by year.
  • I have three title files: unused titles, filler titles, and title brainstorms.  Unused titles are weird turns of phrase I save for a rainy day.  Filler titles are basically Madlibs riffing off of existing titles:  The [Job Title]’s Daughter being a classic example, although I try to only save genuinely interesting frames.  Title brainstorm is when I have an existing story but hate its title; it’s the place where I experiment, sometimes for pages, looking for the right collection of syllables.
  • I keep my fiction, nonfiction, and poetry separate, in folders marked by year.  Each category has subfolders for early drafts, however long; when I get serious about revising or completing a story, it gets its own folder, which then gets moved to a folder pompously titled “short story collection” (essay collection, poetry collection…you get the idea) like that will ever happen.  But hey, these are the tiny hopes and dreams that keep me motivated.

This post makes me sound all Beautiful Mind or something.  “And this bit of yarn connects my story’s subtitles to the Kennedy assassination, and this Word file contains the decryption key for the final sentence of Kryptos.”  It isn’t like that.  I may chuck all these processes tomorrow; I’m committed to none of them.  I just had a small mental breakdown post-exams, and all I could do was start tracking my process like it might save me.  And it sort of has.  I know more now about what it takes for me to write a story.  What does it take?  A billion Word files and a whole lot of Internet browsing, panning for sparkly ideas.


When you read (paper, e-pub, or mindless Internet consumption), do you even try to fight for recall and critique, or do you immerse yourself and allow yourself to just be entertained?  Oh man, and even that makes it sound like a switch can be turned on and off when of course we’re always doing both.  But I think mostly I simply got tired of not remembering the vast majority of the information I was consuming — especially after the Harrowing, aka PhD exams, when I read too many books way too quickly.  Now, I want to read well, which means read critically and with a high rate of recall.  The only way to do that, for me, seems to involve producing a critique, or at least logging a summary of the best bits so perhaps I can find them again if I need them later.

So…what do you do when it comes time for you to write (creative, critical, or otherwise)?  What’s the relation between your reading and your writing?


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