I don’t write about everything; How do you manage your private notes?

I don’t write about everything. I think it might be interesting to write about more, to dig deeper into the things that people rarely write about—but since there’s so much to learn and share even in terms of topics you can talk about with complete strangers, I end up focusing on that instead. Less risky. If I’m writing about drawing, Emacs or other uncontroversially useful topics, I’m less likely to upset or offend (or bring out other odd tendencies in people). So I write more posts about that instead.

This is a bit of a pity because I’m learning so much about interesting things that I don’t yet know how to write publicly about. Decision-making in the face of uncertainty? Finances and semi-retirement? Making stuff happen? I’d love to write about what I’m figuring out. Maybe if I felt safer. (You never know what will bring down the wrath of the Internet – see Kathy Sierra and death threats.) Maybe if I cared less or worried less. People have done that before. Some writers are driven to write, even if the dynamics of relationships are a little bit odd. (A. J. Jacobs manages to pull this off well; I like how he did that in The Guinea Pig Diaries.)

I’m also learning a lot about interesting public things, so it’s not all that bad. =) Again, there’s tons to write about. But it also means that the things I’m learning about interesting, non-public things are more likely to be wasted.

I don’t think keeping an anonymous blog is enough. People get de-anonymized pretty often, and I don’t want to worry about slipping up.

Journals would probably be good, except that my track record of keeping paper notebooks is terrible and they are nowhere near as searchable as digital notes. Private notes in huge text files can get unwieldy and hard to review. Maybe I should use Evernote more often, and just work out some way to tag and organize the notes so that I can do the same kind of search and review that I use for my blog.

Hmm, maybe a private blog, since I already have the backup strategy for that one sorted out? Maybe a private part of the current blog?

Maybe that’s a good skill to figure out: how to keep good enough private notes so that I can build on them for future decisions or learning, or maybe even for time-delayed posting.

How do other people manage it? How do you manage it? How do you remember well enough to be able to build on that instead of wasting the time? How do you organize notes so that they don’t disappear after you’ve forgotten about them?

  • Alcadema

    Coming up with a good format for private notes and journal entries, and the problems with searching and reviewing them, is something I’ve been wrestling with for months now (and I’m sure more of us are as well). I don’t really have anything special to pass along as far as what I’ve come up with — right now I’m diving wholly into Evernote as a solution, just to see how well it can do the job — but there seem to be a good number of us trying to figure out good solutions. Good luck, and more power to you!

    • One of the things I’m trying to figure out with Evernote is how to remember what I put into it. Making index pages or mindmaps with links to notes seems to be helpful, although that’s one more thing to update and search… =)

  • Eric Jackson

    I actually just started using a private WordPress blog for this (plus BlogPad Pro which lets me continue editing a post on my iPad even while offline). I am really liking it. Not sure how it will work long-term, but it allows a nice combination note-taking/journaling form.

    I keep thinking I’ll use Evernote and then keep abandoning it for anything but longer-term archiving.

    • WordPress is pretty easy to back up (at least it seems that way), so I trust it more than Evernote’s format. Still, that unified search is kinda awesome…

  • Raymond Zeitler

    I have two anonymous blogs, both on Blogger’s Blogspot. I freaked out when Google bought Blogger and switched over to a Gmail authentication scheme, forcing me to use my Gmail address, which contains my name. Fortunately Google allowed me to keep the account ID separate for the blog, except for its “follow” feature.

    I keep private notes in drafts. But I just realized I cannot search them the same way I search the published content.

    I use Evernote on my tablet to compose offline, and then I copy / paste later.

    Before I started the blogs I used journal-mode with Planner on emacs-wiki, mostly for work, and now I use notes in org-mode.

    I started reading Kathy Sierra right before she shut down her site. What a terrible loss.

    • I use IFTTT to copy my blog feed into my Evernote notebook for extra searchability, although I’m not sure how well it handles images. I’ve been using Evernote for more of my private notes these days, since I’ve found it difficult to dig through my really old Org notes (or remember to preserve them across computers). I had private notes in my Planner wiki before, but then I lost my GPG private key. <laugh> Silly me!

  • PGP-Encrypted shared diaries on a Dropbox, or BtSync ;). Moreover, you can use hierarchical multi-label syntax to label parts of the diary that would automatically be copied to only to the folder shared with specific friends, as indicated in the label. Actually, you could apply arbitrary function to labelled content, automatically.

    • Yeah, I should try PGP again, and this time back up my private key properly… =)

      • tntdynamight

        To my knowledge, why not stick with orgmode and use emacs included easyPG with symetric encryption (that is, just a passphrase)?
        This way you can keep your diary as an encrypted .org file. This way you can use tags, structures, outlines, it is easily searchable, and if you ever decide to, easily publishable. The file itself is encrypted and can be backed up any way you want, even in your dropbox.
        Main Caveat: Turn off automatic backup-files in emacs, these would be plain text. The same method is capable of asymetric encryption, but as you mention, private key may be more of a hassle.

        • Hmm, can you get it to leave you in plaintext after you save? Mine saves it as encrypted, but then I have to decrypt it before I can keep editing.

          • tntdynamight

            Are you sure that its not just asking you to repeat your password twice for encryption? it does that to make sure you don’t misspell anything, because you can just as well save it with a new password each time, so misspelling would suck. If you use this often and it bothers you, there is a way to cache passwords but it seems nontrivial and I haven’t used it:

          • I got the reprompt for encryption, but then it leaves it encrypted after I save. Since I tend to save as a twitchy behaviour, I might be better off with a TrueCrypt volume or something like that… =) I’m glad org-crypt is out there, though!

  • jsamlarose

    One more vote for Evernote. I experimented with a WordPress blog for private thinking, but I preferred the search in Evernote, and the range of tools that plug into it (Drafts app, etc) although the new Evernote iOS update UI has definitely impacted on my usage. I love the “related notes” functionality in Evernote, but one of the third party apps I really like for rediscovery of old notes is Evershaker (iOS) – it serves up 50+ notes in a category, tag or notebook.

    • Ooh. I need to dig up something like Evershaker but for Android… There’s Revunote for spaced repetition, but that requires setting things up.