I use modern technology a lot. Some digital tools make the writing life a whole lot easier, from word processing’s track changes to email and Dropbox and voice dictation and more. But I still cling to a few old-school tools that newer technologies haven’t replaced. Here are three I have found irreplaceably beneficial.
The Bring-Up File
An analog tool that has helped me make the most of my time and efforts: a “bring-up” file (sometimes called a tickler file). It’s a simple but genius system comprised of 43 file folders I keep in my desk drawer. Twelve are labeled with the names of the months and the rest are numbered 1 through 31. So, each morning I pull out that day’s numbered folder, which contains various papers and other items that need my attention that day, such as, say, a birthday card to send, a cleaning sheet for my paper shredder, a gift card to use for date night with my wife, and a bill I need to pay and mail that day (though most of my bills are digital, some still have to be mailed). The folder also contains any paperwork remaining from the previous day, which allows me to start every day with a clean desk. At the beginning of each month, I divide the contents I’ve been filing away to remember during that month into the 31 numbered folders, and the process begins again.
Post-it Notes and Sheets
I use a lot of Post-it notes in the course of a week or month. Some mark portions of the book I’m reading that I want to copy into a journal or into my Bible Reference Index (see below). Or I might stick a note on my next flight itinerary so I don’t forget to pack an item. I might stick a note on my steering wheel so I remember a stop I wanted to make. And so on. I’ve also used the giant sticky easel pads to brainstorm and outline books and chapters, lining them up along my office wall so I could get a sense of the big picture, so to speak.
Bible Reference Index
The other old-school tool that’s been a huge help to me over my years is a box of 60-some dividers labeled with the books of the Bible. (See the above picture.) Between those dividers are 3 x 5 index cards; each card has an abbreviation of the Bible book in the upper left corner and a chapter number in the upper right corner. Over the years, as I’ve read books—both fiction and nonfiction—and come across an allusion or reference to a verse or passage in the Bible, I’ll mark it (with a Post-it) and then later record that book’s title, author, and page number on the corresponding card in my Bible Reference Index. This system helps tremendously when I’m writing an article or book chapter, as I can pull a card and see quickly what my reading over the years has said about the Bible portion on which I’m writing. On occasion it’s made me look so much smarter than I am (which isn’t a hard task, I grant you, considering my starting point).
I recommend old-school tools like these to my writing friends, as they’ve helped me to achieve and maintain some semblance of order in my writing life. (Every little bit helps, you know.)
How about you? Do you use any old-school tools in your writing life?