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How I’m using Roam to map my writing projects and track my progress

If you follow me on Twitter or Instagram, you might’ve seen this post coming. I became an early adopter of software that’s marketed as a note-taking app, but with applications well beyond that.

How I work

My brain works in mysterious ways – ways I don’t understand myself, and I’ve been living with it for years and years. Random thoughts occur to me at the weirdest moments during the day (and sometimes night, when I’m already in bed trying to sleep).

If I don’t write them down, they are gone for good. So I always try my best to write down everything that pops into my head. More often than not it’s just an idea and I do nothing about it for years (if I do something about it at all). But sometimes, by the time I am ready to do something, I rarely remember the idea or the additional thoughts I wanted to add to it.

Even if I note everything down, I have it spread over different files, platforms, and notebooks. And that’s not very efficient. Or, you know, conducive to sanity.

What I struggle with

What I’ve been trying to do over the years is to, at the end of the day or week, transfer all my captured thoughts and ideas into their respective files/folders, etc.

As you can imagine it worked with various degrees of success depending on how organized I was feeling at any given time.

Then, every time I decided to switch the platform I use for project and task management, something, inevitably got lost or forgotten, or I’m not feeling the idea anymore and I skip it in the transfer.

Then I regret it months or years later, because I vaguely remember the idea and think something along the lines “it would be cool to work on it, but I don’t remember what I wanted to accomplish”.

It’s the baby ideas that are most at risk. Ideas that don’t have their own Scrivener file because they’re not ready for it yet. Ideas that come to me when I’m working on a different project (yea, that happens the most, let’s be real).

My process so far

Till now, I’ve been using different platforms for different purposes. I’ve tried every single project and task management tool out there. I tried Toggle for time tracking, Asana, Trello, and Teamwork for project and task management, Notion, and Evernote for all the things.

Out of them all, I’m still using Evernote to store documents and I’m trying to move away from Notion to minimize the number of platforms I’m using, but I gave up on all the others.

In addition, I have a yearly word count tracker in a spreadsheet that I download from Svenja because her art is amazing and her formulas just give me life. And this year I started calendar blocking using Google Calendar so I don’t try to do more than I possibly can fit into the day.

In the analog world, I also use a bullet journal to keep on top of my priorities as well as a notebook where I write down things as I work my way through plot points or problems I run into while writing and editing.

It’s a lot, there’s no doubt about it, so maybe it’s not a surprise that it doesn’t work for me completely with what I want out of my systems.

How Roam Research is helping me

When I saw Thomas Frank’s video about Roam Research, I decided to check it out.

The bi-directional links seemed like the answer to all of my needs because I could make notes in random places, as they appear in my head (more often than not in the Daily Notes section that’s now permanently opened in my browser), and have them appear in the places where I would be able to act on them.

As I write or edit, I note down any idea that comes to me, linking it to the #editing page and whatever project it relates to. It doesn’t require me to do much outside of making sure I put a hashtag in front of the word

The pages as they are created look through the entire database and list all the linked references in other pages, as well as unlinked references (pages where I talk about something but forget to create a link). So even if I screw up, Roam keeps track of all my thinking.

It works even better when it comes to research (not surprising, when you look at the name of the app).

In the past, I used to skip research altogether, because I had no way of storing the information (the research folders in Scrivener just don’t work for me) and I knew I would have to research the same thing at least twice more when the project came to the editing stage.

With Roam, I spent three hours researching car accidents and related injuries and organized everything I learned from all over the place neatly. And I have easy access to it not only for my Misplaced edits but for any other projects down the line where it might come up.

My hopes for the future

I noticed through my usage of Roam that it encourages me to write more. It’s helpful especially since I started outlining my blog posts there as well. It also proved very helpful when it comes to putting the work in every day. It works very well with my bullet journal and calendar blocking.

Roam is still in beta. In fact, as of writing this, the sign-ups are closed, as the developers are working out the kinks and app performance under heavy usage. So there are problems that appear sometimes, but at the same time, I can see the app being improved almost daily.

I hope they develop a mobile app so I can use it on the go, and I’m really hoping for a dark mode, to ease eye strain – I spend way too much time in front of a screen to have any of my pages in a crisp white background.

I’m going to keep using the app regardless. Obviously, I’ll be reassessing it at the end of June, after using it in this round of editing on Misplaced and maybe in something new after. But I can already see the incredible potential and using Roam Research already paid off immensely. I noticed a significant increase in my productivity.

I’m looking forward to what I can accomplish with my new and improved system, but at the same time, I’m interested in other people’s processes and how they get things done in their writing. If you feel like sharing, hit me up on Twitter or Instagram!

Failure is indeed an option

Random Thought Process Alert:

Someone at work told me recently: “Failure is not an option”. I laughed and nodded before we both moved on to another task we’ve been discussing. But at the back of my head, I heard a nagging voice insisting that “yes, it is.”

Failure is part of life, more so when you’re a writer. Our craft is so subjective than even when you’re at your best, someone somewhere will hate what you put out.

Every time I get a rejection email from an agent, that’s one more failure on my balance sheet. And yes, every time it hurts, but I can’t deny its impact on me.

Failure has taught me so much over the years.

I learned time management and how to prioritize my tasks, and what happens when I don’t do it. I learned what things I actually value and what I can live without. I learned how to manage my money and why ignoring my problems can lead to disaster.

More importantly: I learned to motivate myself when the results of my work are not immediate. I learned to establish my own standards and work hard to achieve them, to work hard until I’m satisfied with the results. And I learned to be very careful about whose opinions I care about and who do I allow to influence me and my choices.

So yeah, failure is indeed an option. It’s the option that allowed me to grow, to become better. A better person. A better writer. A better career woman.

Simply better.

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