I’m Lou Franco and this is episode 21 of Write While True.
The name of this podcast is a program that goes into an infinite loop, and that’s because I think of writing as an infinite game.
It’s like a game of catch, which is even more fun when you get better at it, but the only way to do that is to keep playing.
So in each episode, I’ll tell you something I learned about writing and then I’ll throw you the ball with a writing challenge or prompt.
This is season two, which is about restarting after stopping.
I’m exploring this topic in the context of restarting this podcast after a two-year hiatus.
I use a lot of software to manage my projects
If you’ve listened to this podcast before, you know I’m a programmer. And so it shouldn’t be surprising that I use JIRA to run my software projects. All of the tasks that I need to do in order to run the project are managed there. For my open source projects, I use GitHub and GitHub issues.
And for writing projects, I’ve already talked about how I keep all of my first drafts and notes in Obsidian. In episode two, I explained about how I keep bits of writing in a web of notes that I can use to build first drafts later.
To manage the workflow for this podcast, I use Trello.
And for things I just want to remember, I use a spaced repetition flashcard system in an application called Anki. I talked about that in episode 14.
Some of my writing is meant to be published. If it’s documentation for a software project, I do it in Confluence. And for my blog and this podcast, I use WordPress.
Any big project I’m doing eventually needs to live in some kind of software so I can deal with it.
They are the sources of truth, the archive. They’re easily searchable and linkable and easy to share. I can invite people into my Confluence space or send someone a link to my blog.
But I also use paper
But I also need to capture ideas and thoughts when I’m away from my computer. For that, I use whatever I have. I might use Apple Notes or Voice Memos if I only have my phone. But mostly, I use pen and paper.
I like how it’s just a lot faster, especially if what I’m doing is using the whole page in a non-structured way. For example, with a drawing or a diagram. And there are just fewer distractions. When I’m writing in a journal, there’s no way for me to go on the Internet. All the software that I use to manage my projects—they live in a browser and the entire Internet is only one tab away.
I’ve been using a paper journal for years. Even when I worked on big teams, I still kept a separate journal with my personal daily tasks and schedule. For years, I just used a single journal for everything. I’d just go through it and then start another one when I hit the last page. Any kind of paper capture that I needed to do was in that one journal.
A couple of years ago I started splitting out separate journals based on the purpose. I was forced to do this when I started doing Morning Pages.
If you don’t know what they are, I covered Morning Pages in the first episode of this podcast. Then, in episode 19, I gave an update about an improvement I discovered. I’ll link to both of those episodes in the show notes.
The main thing to know is that it’s going to take up three pages every day with long-hand writing. And I would be using up a lot of pages quickly if that was in my regular daily journal. It would dominate it because I don’t even use one page a day for my tasks.
The other reason I needed Morning Pages to be in a separate journal is that I wanted to be able to throw them away. There’s really not anything in them that I’d want to keep. I certainly wouldn’t show them to anybody. Even reading them myself might be a problem if I start to judge them. It might make me not want to do them, which defeats the point.
So with Morning Pages separated out, my main journal became a dedicated daily planner. I used to use just a blank notebook with no structure because I didn’t know what was going to be in the journal. But now, since I know it’s mostly a daily planner, I decided to design my own. This is something I’ve written about on my blog a few times. I’ll link to that in the show notes if you want to see more details and pictures of it.
The journal is very structured—almost every page has a specific purpose. But there are some blank pages throughout it, which I use for capture or brainstorming. After a few months, I realized that for bigger projects, it wasn’t good enough.
I recently started a new writing project, which is at the ideation stage. So I need to capture a lot of brainstorming and mind maps and a lot of other kinds of unstructured writing and diagrams.
Sometimes I want to do this out in a third space, like a cafe, without my laptop. So I decided to use a dedicated journal for just that project. It’s just an A5-sized dot-grid journal. I didn’t design this one. I picked up a nice one while I was on vacation.
Here are a few things that are important for me in a project journal:
The first is that I think the page format should be something flexible. I’m using a simple dot-grid, but a blank page would also be okay. For morning pages I do use a lined journal because that’s just long-hand writing, and I like the guides. But a project journal could have anything.
Second, I’m numbering every page so I can refer to other pages in the journal itself and also in other systems. This journal will have information that needs to be put into a better system at some point. For me, that’s Obsidian. But each day, I also need to refer to the pages in my daily planner, so having a page number is important. I didn’t realize that when I bought the book, or else I might have tried to find one with page numbers already, but it’s not a big deal to do it myself.
And finally, it needs to lay flat. I usually use spiral notebooks because of that, but there are many styles that lay flat. I always test that my journals lay flat before I buy them.
So, here’s something to try. If you’re starting a new writing project, especially if it’s early and you’re mostly brainstorming, consider dedicating a paper journal to it. It’s a good way to get you away from your computer and let you focus. Pen and paper are also great if you’re using visual tools like mind maps or diagrams.
I know that there are some great programs for making these kinds of drawings, but a paper journal brings writing, checklists, and all kinds of sketches all together so that you can figure things out.
Thanks for listening. This has been Right While True, a podcast where we’re okay with infinite loops as long as they’re fun.