Dispatches, thoughts, and miscellanea from writer Jon Konrath

The Death of Paper Notes

One of the changes in OSX Mountain Lion is that it has a dedicated Notes application.  It’s just a basic text editor, except it syncs with other Apple devices.  This isn’t entirely new; iOS devices have had a notes app for a while, and it would sync with an IMAP server and show the notes in the Mail application.  This meant I could create a set of notes that lived in my gmail account, and then edit them on my phone, my computer, or my iPad.  That was pretty much the end of trying to remember to carry around a little notepad or Moleskin or whatever, and now I just jot down any stray thoughts or ideas there, and they get synced in all three places.  And I guess in some extreme emergency where I didn’t have any Apple devices with me, I could always point a web browser at gmail and get at the notes there.

This new workflow saves me a ton of time, and avoids the issue that my handwriting is all but unreadable, even to me.  But one problem with it is that I don’t have a hardcopy of any of my notes about a book.  I was digging around for something else in my storage recently, and found a vinyl three-ring binder containing all (or most all) of the notes from Summer Rain and Rumored to Exist.  One of the first things I realized about this binder is that it’s actually from when I was a computer consultant for the school.  UCS had these beginning-of-year training sessions where they gave you a binder full of stuff you’d never read, and this happens to be one of those binders.  It was probably given to me in 1991 when I started working there, and after I chucked all of the lists of phone numbers and rules, I used it as a school folder.  It’s still got a couple of papers I wrote in it, including the two papers I wrote in the summer of 1992 that I mention in Summer Rain.  I can’t even try to read them though; I’m sure they’re horrible.  I distinctly remember losing the 3.5″ floppy disk I used that summer for my WordPerfect files – I left it in a Mac in one of the labs.  Part of me wishes I still had those files for some sick reason, but I guess if I have the hardcopies, that’s just as bad.

A big chunk of the material in this binder is research material and notes on Summer Rain.  That book is fiction, but it’s based on fact, and I burned a lot of cycles trying to keep track of dates and times.  I’ve got an insane amount of post-it notes and scraps of paper reminding me of stuff like that Ray visited Bloomington on July 11, 1992 and I broke my arm on September 30th and I ate lunch at Burger King on August 7th.  There’s a bunch of report cards, a complete recapitulation of every bursar charge I had during my time at IU, and a small stack of snapshots of the campus in the early 90s.  And there are pages and pages of outlines.  I tend not to outline before I write; I usually write until I get stuck, and then I used to go back and write outlines of what existed, so I could navigate through all of the files without getting lost.  I have dozens of pages of these outlines, inventory sheets of what happens in what file.  There are punchlists from 1998 of what parts are missing from what chapter, and long essays to myself on 1996 on what direction characters are heading.  The 1998 notes even contain a combination of all of these, a list of chapters and what date they would have happened in real life.

The notes from Rumored to Exist are also pretty interesting.  When I worked in Seattle, I would sit with a PC in front of me, a Mac Centris 660AV on my right, and a legal pad on my left.  I would write this online help on the PC, and then compile it on the Mac.  The Apple machine also served as my CD player.  But while I worked, I would write down any random nonsensical thought on the legal pad.  And by the end of the day, I’d have a page or two of these scribblings, random quotes and names of designer drugs and medieval weaponry and genetic disorders and long-forgotten TV shows, and all of these became raw material for what eventually became that book.  And I’ve still got a bunch of these, along with a post card from Larry from the Astrodome, which is something that appeared in the book, but that he later really sent me.  There’s a shot of all of this on the back of the now-out-of-print annotated version of the book, but I’ve also got all of it here.

There’s also a printout of a 1998 draft of Rumored here, one that I must have given Marie, that she marked up and sent back to me.  It’s so different than the finished book that it amazes me.  I still have a lot of these drafts in electronic form, because I’ll usually zip up a copy at a big logical stopping point, but it’s amazing to me to see it captured forever on paper.  When I moved to New York, I was almost to the point of quitting this book, and decided to start a new draft, a completely blank document.  I sifted through the old version, and only carried over the things I absolutely loved.  Everything else stayed behind, and I think I probably rescued maybe 80 pages.  But those old bits — I started writing this thing in 1995, so there were pieces that stayed in the draft for three years before being clipped.  It’s fun to see those bits again.

Now, I do all of this stuff online, and it’s much more efficient.  I can tear around in Scrivener and keep a digital outline and easily checkpoint documents to save old drafts.  I have no idea why I kept any of this old paper stuff — I think there was some assumption that I’d sell millions of copies of the book and some university library would want to purchase all of my letters and notes.  I mean, not really, but that’s a hoarder’s rationale.  Now, I wonder if any of the bits I threw out are worth publishing, but I’ve already done so many editions of Rumored, I’m in no hurry to rush out another one.