You can’t do much carpentry with your bare hands, and you can’t do much thinking with your bare brain. —Bo Dahlbom
High school English class. Freshman year. The teacher explained how to:
- Come up with a thesis statement.
- Create an outline of arguments supporting the thesis statement.
- Write a paper based on that outline.
That’s actually a terrible way to write! It requires you to organize your thoughts before you know what those thoughts actually are. But there is a better way.
Brainstorm, Organize, Write
What are your thoughts about a particular subject? In the days before computers, you’d find out like this:
- Get a package of index cards, something like these.
- On each card, write an idea related to your thesis (the fancy word for whatever it is you want to write about). Do not try to do this in any kind of order; you’re brainstorming here: good ideas, bad ideas, any ideas—they all go down on the cards. When your brain is empty, stop.
- On a big desk or table, spread the cards out in front of you. Keep them messy.
- Read the cards and stack those on a certain subject together until you have several stacks. Discard (pardon the pun) those that don’t belong anywhere or that now seem irrelevant or stupid.
- Put the cards in each stack in some kind of order. Importance? Chronology? You choose.
- Put the stacks in some kind of order. Each stack represents a section of your paper.
After you’ve captured and organized your thoughts, write your paper, starting with the first card and ending with the last. Each stack gets a subheading. Each card gets a paragraph. When you’re finished, edit your paper as needed.
Card-Based Writing Programs
But, again, that was in the days before computers. We now have much better ways of doing what I’ve just described, with new card-based writing programs popping up all the time.
. . . .
Milanote is the most expensive of the programs listed here, but it’s also the slickest. Cards can be created and then placed on the screen in any order you like. After you have them all down, organize them into columns. Finally, export the whole thing as a Word document, a Markdown document, or plain text, ready for editing. Milanote is elegant, a pleasure to use.
Speare doesn’t support free-form card placement; each paragraph is a card, and all cards must be arranged in a “board.” After creating and organizing your cards, “compile” them into a document, copy the document, and paste into Word or another word processor.
Link to the rest at Editorium
PG would be interested in hearing from visitors to TPV who use or have used programs like those described in the OP. He’d be interested to understand the pluses and minuses of using something other than a word processor.