On Facebook, this post sparked some discussion of Scrivener, which is in some ways the ideal writing platform for this kind of approach, because of the split-screen and index card functions. However, I do all of my initial note-taking in Zotero. I use it in conjunction with a background app called BetterSnapTool, which lets you divide your (Mac) screen in a number of different ways. I have keyboard shortcuts to send a window to fill the left half of the screen, and one to do that for the right side of the screen. So it’s easy for me to pop a PDF into the left half of my screen, and a Zotero note window into the right half, and plug away. I like Zotero because you can make things taggable, searchable, linkable, and to keep everything paired with the original source, without having to import the file into the program. Once I’ve taken all of my notes, I have a better idea about what’s important in the story, and I can start dropping the text I’ve already written into Scrivener, where I can start playing with the structure. It’s not the most efficient way to write, but it got the job done.
Confession: I have not been writing this book in chapters. I have been writing it in chunks.
We always imagine other historians sitting down, calmly and coolly at their desks, putting all the documents in the right order, and starting to write. I actually did that with my first book, but there was a secret: I was working with FBI files, and they all had numbers. The numbers more or less sequenced the narrative for me. I could then use colored post-its to mark out various themes (“gender,” “the state,” “kidnapping,” and so on.) Even when I went to archives not organized by J. Edgar Hoover — the Department of Justice, the FDR LIbrary — there really wasn’t that much to collect, and it all went together pretty easily.
Not this time. My files (paper and virtual, since I switched midway through the research) are just crazy. There are the…
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