Memoir Writing: No. 3 My Indispensable Tool

When I was writing HIDDEN WAR: A Memoir of America’s Secret Crusade in Laos, I was working from a large number of sources:

  • Two hand-written journals kept in spiral notebooks
  • More than 50 rolls of black and white film scanned into digital files
  • Hundreds of letters, most hand-written
  • Course evaluations for my undergraduate degree (Laos was my year abroad that stretched to two years.)
  • Files, notes and course work from graduate school
  • More than 100 books, most in paper versions but including a dozen or so in digital formats
  • Five folio-sized scrap books of newspaper and magazine clippings
  • Files full of carbon copies of articles I wrote
  • Dozens of paper and digital maps of Laos and surrounding countries

It’s no wonder I started and stopped half a dozen times before I finally got it right and finished.

I wrote and edited the manuscript in MS Word, but my notes and everything else I did on Evernote, my indispensable writing tool.

Disclaimer: I am not a shill for Evernote, have never received free software, blah, blah, blah, and I absolutely hate some things about the program.

But I never would have finished the memoir without it, and I use it a dozen times a day to keep my schedule, take notes and leave myself reminders, and pull down content from the Web and social media. Of the 1,250 or so files currently in Evernote, the Laos folder holds 299, including the sample below.

Screen Shot 2016-08-07 at 6.38.13 AM

Evernote grabs and stores research from the Web and displays material in useful sidebars.

Here’s what I like most about it:

  • It works with all operating systems and devices. When I was writing Hidden War, I was working with a Windows PC, an Apple MacBook Pro, an iPad, and an Android cell phone and later an iPhone 6s Plus. Whatever I wrote or stored on one version of Evernote appeared on every other device and platform just fine.
  • It lives on the cloud (see above), but you can store some or all of your files on a particular device. I back up all my files every month and keep a separate backup of the Laos material.
  • It offers lots of options when you want to grab stuff from the Web, including (my favorite) just the content without all the ads and other Web blather.

I suspect it does much more but that’s how I rely on it.

I wrote the original draft of all my chapters on Evernote before combining them on MS Word. That’s my system.

What I hate is the limited formatting options and the worst autocorrect function I have ever used.

Some people swear by Scrivener, but I could never figure it out.

Find your own indispensable writing tool. You’re about to do some heavy lifting.

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