Over the past few years, while initiating two personal non-fiction projects each running hundreds of pages in length, I found myself struggling to structure coherent wholes from the dizzying sums of the respective parts. I knew generally what I wanted to say in each case, and I had no shortage of content to work with, but in contemplating the structural expression of my ideas I became overwhelmed both by the complexity of the issues and the amount of information on hand.
Having learned to write in the pre-computer age, when every word had to be hand-chiseled into a block of marble, and having been liberated by the amazing technological advances in word processing that continue to this day, and generally being the kind of person who believes that software is a better medium for grappling with ideas than stone, I invariably tried to use computer programs to wrap my mind around each project. Unfortunately, each tool I tested proved more trouble than it was worth because visibility of the whole became obscured by the inherent limitations of the computer screen — by which I mean an old-fashioned desk-top monitor.
It’s a given today that the only thing worth holding in your hand is the latest-and-greatest smartphone, but I’m going to suggest you may want to expand your arsenal of helpful physical objects when you’re writing something that can’t be adequately communicated with your thumbs. And yes, as you undoubtedly surmised from the title of this post, I’m talking about note cards. What you may not yet realize, however, is that I really am talking about real paper note cards just like your grandparents used when they were structuring their long-form projects.[ Read more ]