I’ve never met a freelance writer who wasn’t at least a little bit of an injo-junkie. Whether it’s jotting down names and numbers in the line at the supermarket when you find someone who could be a great source or spending hours online reading web pages and copying great lines for your swipe file, a good freelance writer is always collecting notes and new ideas. Of course, if you don’t have some sort of system for managing all of that information, all of those notes could turn into a problem, rather than the resource they should be. If you’re still struggling on how to turn your notes into something that can help you, consider these five points.
- Think electronic: You don’t absolutely have to put all of your notes on the computer, but I recommend it. When I started taking notes electronically, all I used was a gigantic messy Word document. Even that was better than a physical file folder, though, because I could search for a phrase or a word, rather than rifling through my papers. I’ve moved on from the single document system, but I’ll never take my notes offline.
- Add new notes easily: I rely on a tool called Evernote, first and foremost because there are so many different ways to add information to my notes. I can take photos with my cell phone, clip web pages and make new notes from any computer. No matter what sort of system you use, putting in place a strategy to add notes — especially those taken while you’re away from the computer — is crucial.
- Organize, to an extent: A little organization can significantly help your information system — but too much is a waste of time. As long as you have a general method of categorizing or tagging your notes so that you’ll be able to find them again down the road, a simple search will probably get you exactly where you need to go. Exact cataloging may have been necessary for hard copy notes, but it’s not an issue now.
- Look through your notes: It’s not enough to just pull out what you need from your notes whenever something jogs your memory. When you’re planning a new project or putting together a new query, take a quick look through your notes for relevant information. Short on ideas? Go through your notebook and see if you have anything you can work up for a pitch. The information you collect should be a reference.
- Postpone perfection: Good enough for now is good enough, at least when it comes to managing article ideas, sources and the other information you’re probably juggling. A note-taking system doesn’t have to be perfect — it just has to get the job done. You can always tweak it later, after all. Don’t be afraid to try your own system, either. What works for me may not work for you. If you need to, try out a couple different tools and approaches to find the right options.