I've written several posts about how I've digitized my research work flow using PDFs, my DEVONthink database, and Microsoft Word documents. I enjoy that I can work in Baltimore or New York or Florida as easily as I could at my kitchen table in Pittsburgh, shlepping only my laptop. I like my life convenient and searchable.
Every now and then, though, I find myself stumped by the flashing cursor. Computers demand linear thoughts, forward progression, and order. That usually works pretty well for me (I think I am too linear, actually) but sometimes I can't manage to queue up my chaotic thoughts. That's when I switch back to an analog writing tool: the notebook.
This morning, I found an empty page in a blank-sheet moleskine and pulled out my colorful gel pens. I need to revise the chapter breakdown for my dissertation; each chapter must move ahead in time in order to align them with a series of events that I better understand now, after six months of research, than when I initially wrote my proposal. It's a lot of information and I was feeling overwhelmed, but I forced myself to really get down to the basics. I asked: "What changes am I trying to describe, and how exactly did those changes unfold? Can I make an argument for why those changes happened? And what stories help illustrate those changes?"
After about 15 minutes of deep thought and drawing arrows, I put down my pens and went back to reading documents. I figured that if a theme didn't emerge from my brain within that time frame, it probably does not warrant mention in an overview. I might try again tomorrow, to see if changing up the colors might inspire some more ideas, because apparently an analog work flow is how I'm going to complete this task