Perfect mix of magic and mayhem

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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!

What I learned when I wrote like it was my job for a day

The Set-Up

As I wrote in my previous post, Friday, May 1 was a bank holiday in Poland, which meant I would not be working. At the same time, due to the pandemic, I wouldn’t really be able to go out and enjoy the day outside.

So I might as well just work, right?

I decided, in what might’ve been a moment of temporary insanity, that I will pretend fiction writing is my full-time job and from 7 am to 3.30 pm (hours I normally spend at work) I will do only things connected to my “job”

I tracked my day in Roam – a note-taking app that I recently discovered and quickly fell in love with. I figured it would make it easier to analyze the day later and see if it made sense to repeat the experiment.

I wanted to work on three related projects:

  • my current writing project – a YA urban fantasy novel I’m editing right now (though I’m rewriting Act III, so I’m doing more #writing than anything else)
  • my author’s website – I had some issues with my newsletter and needed to set it up again from scratch and reconnect. It’s still not working as it should, but small steps, right?
  • some novel related research – more specifically car accidents and injuries resulting from them.

How the Day Progressed

I started writing at 7.30am (I had to wake up and start everything… Maybe check my email as well) and had two writing sessions (with a short break in between) until 9am. After that, I had to do some research into the aforementioned car accidents. Then I wrote until 12.30 (with a quick lunch break right before 12). To quote my notes from Roam:

  • #writing – 279/1500 words after 1st session
  • #writing – 470/1500 words after 2nd session
  • #writing – 712/1500 words after 3rd session
  • #writing – 955/1500 after 4th session
  • #writing – 1223/1500 after 5th session
  • #writing – 1570/1500 after 6th session

Needless to say, I reached my writing goal for the day and it took me more or less 5 hours.

I still had 3 hours to go before I could start relaxing.

I used one of the working sessions to figure out how to fix my newsletter (though, because the tech-challenged person that I am, I’m still not sure if it’s working) – though if you’re having trouble signing up, do let me know!

The rest of my “working day” was spent on research. I learned all sorts of things about car accidents, was shocked to discover there are still 19 states in the US with no primary enforcement law when it comes to seat belts and looked into ideas on what kind of newsletters I could send.

Don’t judge me on that last one. As an introvert, I have problems seamlessly reaching out to people. Social media is a constant learning process for me.

Lessons Learned

The biggest question going in was whether or not I would actually be able to do it. Write consistently, not waste my day away on YouTube or anything else.

I am very pleased to say that the day was a resounding success. Maybe I haven’t written as much as when I was going the #writing10kinaday challenge on Instagram, but the next day I was actually able to write some more. I wasn’t burned out or exhausted by the end of my “workday”.

I learned how important having a way to handle distractions is. In the past, I was just clicking away from Scrivener when I wanted to take a look at my inbox, or reaching for my phone for a quick Twitter scroll. Or worst of all, I closed Scrivener when I reached 150 words and went on with my day.

This time, I wanted to stick it out for the full writing session (25 minutes) and every time I got an urge to click away, or switch focus, I wrote it down. I did actually follow through and didn’t click away from Scrivener, but I recorded the urge itself. Every time, I marked it clearly with a #distraction

  • #distraction – wanted to color in the day in #bujo
  • #distraction – wanted to post to #Twitter about they’re vs. their and why am I still making that mistake???
  • #distraction – added org structure to roam
  • #distraction – mom ask me to take something off of the high shelf
  • #distraction #blog #idea – write up an article for the website on roam
  • #distraction #Twitter – transitions are hard yo
  • #distraction – I should create a #research project in the timer app

My brain gets easily distracted, but apparently just writing the stray thought down helps immensely (or obediently going to the kitchen to take that package of pasta that my mom wanted).

Having a clear goal for what I wanted to accomplish in the day was a very good idea. I knew the word count I wanted to hit and what specific tasks connected to my website I wanted to complete. It gave me purpose and I know what I was aiming for. I knew when I was done after those were accomplished.

Not to mention it gave me a clear way to measure success.

I mean, I knew those were important, but seeing them in action and (more importantly) seeing how getting them done motivated me made it even more clear what a helpful technique that was.

In Closing

The experiment worked and I will definitely be repeating it in the future. In fact, June 11 of this year is another bank holiday in Poland. It falls on Thursday and I will definitely be using it as another Write Like It’s Your Job Day.

I pushed myself to focus during the writing sessions and complete the research I needed without stopping.

I actually had fun and I felt like I was engaging with people on social media more in between my sprints.

Finally, I know fiction writing could be my full-time job and I would be able to get the work done. Something to aim for, I suppose.

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