My favorite notetaking apps

C.J. Chilvers wrote about the pros and cons of popular notetaking tools. Out of the four he features—Apple Notes, Evernote, Ulysses, and Bear—I have used two previously, and none currently. So, having already examined my favored podcasts and newsletters, here’s a look at the tools I do use and why I use them.

Paper

The once and future king of all notetaking apps. I keep a plain, pocket-sized Moleskine in my backpack for odds and ends, a larger journal as a daily diary and scrapbook (previously a Moleskine classic hardcover and currently a Zequenz 360), and a good ol’ composition notebook for my filmlog.

WorkFlowy

Dynamic, lightweight list-making with blessed few bells and whistles. Perfect for hierarchical thinking, tasks, and anything else you can put into a list. It’s built for marking tasks complete, but I use it mostly as an archive for reference, split between Work and Personal. Plus a To Do list at top for quick capture of tasks.

Simplenote

Good for taking quick notes in plain text. I often use it for first drafts of blog posts, taking book notes, and whatever else I need a basic text editor for. Helpful when trying to remove formatting from text you want to paste cleanly elsewhere—”text laundering” as I call it. Clean, simple, works well on the web and mobile.

Google Drive

For when Simplenote isn’t enough. Good for collaboration and as a document repository. Among other things my Logbook spreadsheet is there, as are lots of work-related docs, random files shared with my wife, my archive of book reviews, and my Book Notes doc filled with (at present) 121 single-spaced pages of notes and quotes from 108 books.

Apple Reminders

Used mostly for sharing shopping lists with my wife, because it’s easy to regenerate lists from completed items. Unfortunately it doesn’t sync well between devices without WiFi, which is a bummer when we’re out shopping.

Google Calendar

Google, don’t you ever get rid of Calendar. I mean it. Some former Google products had it coming, but you’re gonna ride or die with Gmail and Calendar, ya hear?

Dropbox

Essential for quick and easy file backup. Through referrals and other incentives over the years I’ve accumulated 5.63 GB in free storage on top of the 2 GB default. I’m using over 95% of it.

5 tips from 10 years of filmlogging

In July 2008, while on a 24-hour break from the summer camp I was working at, I saw The Dark Knight with some fellow camp counselors. The next day I cracked open the new 3-subject composition notebook I’d brought to camp, flipped to the back third, and wrote a few lines on what I thought of the movie:

I hope this gets some Oscar nods. It’s smashing B.O. records for good reason. Heath Ledger owns this movie. Very smart, very dark, and very good.

Thus began a routine that is now 10 years old. Except for a gap between January and July 2010, since then I’ve been writing my initial thoughts on all first viewings of movies I see, new and old.

It took a month or two before I settled on the now standard structure of 4 lines per movie. I didn’t bother with star ratings or other metadata as I wanted to make it as easy as possible for myself to keep up with the exercise. And they all have a similar tone to that first one, like succinct bulletins to myself.

That first notebook lasted until December 2014. Then I decided to give the film log its own notebook.

Though my Logbook captures all my viewing and reading, I still keep up the paper film log. Not only for tradition and continuity’s sake, but because I find it valuable to capture my first fresh thoughts on what I watch in a tangible record. To see the pages gradually fill gives me visual evidence of all the amazing (and not so amazing) movies I’ve been able to see.

With that in mind, here are some tips for starting and keeping a logbook:

Tips for logging

1. Keep it simple.

I knew if I added too much beyond the basics to the logging process—a star rating, specifically where and when I saw it, etc.—it would become too unwieldy and easy to give up. Each entry takes me less than a minute.

2. Log sooner rather than later.

Right after you watch the movie, if possible. The point of this is to capture your immediate, visceral, and concise thoughts, not write a New Yorker story. I often fail at this and have to catch up on a few movies at once, which is why I make sure to at least add them to the Logbook so I can refer to it later.

3. Structure it just enough.

My format of four lines per movie didn’t happen right away. It developed naturally based on how much I found myself writing about each one. It also meant each 24-line page would neatly hold six movies. Love me some consistency!

4. Don’t stop at the log.

Many times what I log about a film ends up being the basis of further writing about it, whether on Letterboxd or on this blog. On the flip side, I often just log it and forget it. I often surprise myself with a film I didn’t realize I’d already seen and logged but had no memory of.

5. Whatever you log, stick with it.

It’s really cool to have a handwritten record of something I love, a kind of cultural diary that I can match up to other life events and see what connects. Yours doesn’t have to be movies: log your reading, beer drinking, museum hopping, whatever. Heck, start an Austin Kleon-style logbook and log it all! Whatever it is, keep it up and enjoy seeing the pages multiply.

Quotes of the moment

A few years ago I started logging the interesting or inspiring quotes I come upon in my reading and watching. I thought it would be fun to post the ones I captured in 2017, which taken together tell part of the ongoing story going on in my head and heart. What story do they tell, I wonder:


“Learning weighs nothing. Lessons you can carry with you.” – Rachel Seiffert, A Boy in Winter

“Read more than you write, live more than you read.” – Junot Diaz

“The most regretful people on earth are those who felt the call to creative work, who felt their own creative power restive and uprising, and gave to it neither power nor time.” – Mary Oliver

“Plans are worthless, but planning is everything.” – attributed to Dwight Eisenhower

“All wisdom ends in paradox.” – Jeffrey Eugenides, The Virgin Suicides

“The blessing is outside of your comfort zone.” – Running store guy, via Ashley Hicks

“Knowing that we have to die, we ought to live to be prepared to die well, and then, let death come when it may.” – Andrew Jackson

“It is preferable to take people as they are, rather than as they really are.” – Lord Chesterfield

“To look for something beautiful is its own reward. A man’s reach should exceed his grasp, or what’s a heaven for?” – The Lost City of Z

“Go for a walk; cultivate hunches; write everything down, but keep your folders messy; embrace serendipity; make generative mistakes; take on multiple hobbies; frequent coffeehouses and other liquid networks; follow the links; let others build on your ideas; borrow, recycle, reinvent. Build a tangled bank.” – Steven Johnson, Where Good Ideas Come From

Adventures in Logbooking

Looking at my logbook, I noticed that I recently had a string of four starred books or movies in a row, the longest streak yet. (It would have been five in a row had I seen Brooklyn before Love & Mercy, which I liked a lot but not star-liked.)

749 Typewriter Revolution, The Richard Polt book 2015 2015 Dec
748 Tangerine Sean S. Baker film 2015 2015 Dec
747 Creed Ryan Coogler film 2015 2015 Dec
746 Winter: Notes from Montana Rick Bass book 1991 2015 Dec

That’s only the second time that’s happened since I started keeping track in 2010. The other was in December 2010:

208 Social Network, The David Fincher film 2010 2010 Dec
207 True Grit Joel and Ethan Coen film 2010 2010 Dec
206 Fighter, The David O. Russell film 2010 2010 Dec
205 Black Swan Darren Aronofsky film 2010 2010 Dec

All four of those films from 2010 made my best-of list that year, and yet I haven’t rewatched any of them besides The Social Network, so I couldn’t say whether they would still remain on my Best of 2010 list if I were to make a new one these five years later. Likewise, Creed and The Typewriter Revolution will make my 2015 lists (with Tangerine just missing the cut), but time will tell if they’ll stay there.

My criteria for earning a star are as diverse as the logbook itself, but my basic interpretation is whether that book or film could end up on my best-of list from whichever year it was made. So both of these streaks could be considered flukes given the inherent subjectivity of star-giving. On the other hand, that both occurred in December makes sense given the abundance of higher quality films in the thick of Oscar season.

With its mix of books and movies, old and new, the 2015 streak seems more unlikely—a conglomeration of providence and serendipity. I’m sure if I were to reread and rematch every movie and book on my list some would lose stars and some would gain them, so I won’t put too much stock in what’s essentially an anomaly. But that’s why I’m glad I started this logging practice: to document a fairly large part of my life, and to catch my first impressions and see how they fare in retrospect.

Still, I found it interesting enough to write a post about, so I have that going for me, which is nice.