Archive for the stationery lust Category

Filtering distraction: how to use index cards to stay off the web

Posted in computing, lifehacking, Lists, memory, multitasking, social networking, stationery lust, writing with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , on March 15, 2010 by katekanno

“The mind that has no fixed aim loses itself, for, as they say, to be everywhere is to be nowhere.

Michel Montaigne  (From a blogshort essay on idleness that describes internet haze brain to a T.)

This is your brain on the web.

Or mine, anyway, and for the last several months I’ve been obsessed with finding ways to curb the impulse for distraction.

For writers, this problem is exacerbated by our own insecurities, that inner voice that tells us we’ve got a fact wrong, or that we simply don’t know enough about a subject to be blathering on about it like some blowhard in the Guggenheim.

One option I’ve tried is the Freedom application. You can find a better description of it here, but basically it cuts you off the web for a designated amount of time. If you want to get back on, you have to reboot your computer.  It’s an excellent way to get started, a sort of training wheels for willpower.

Another option I’ve devised myself is the use of index cards. Many writers praise them as an immediate idea recording device, but they can also be used, I’ve found, to keep my twitchy little fingers from clicking the browser icon. Here’s how it works.


Obtain index cards, one stack will do, but you’ll find you’ll need more as you go along.


Place one of them next to your computer, and write the name of whatever writing project you’re working on across the top.


Close your browser, bring up word ( or whatever program you use), and start writing. Fend off the evil voice when it’s simply throwing rocks at you — especially do this when it sounds like your mother. However, if it asks a legitimate question such as “Is that really how internal combustion engines work?” or nags you that “you really need to elaborate more on cuttlefish anatomy,” you pick up that card and write it down. Now I usually number the questions, simply because I know I’ll need the order later, but now you are free from the urge to click your browser and thereby instantly forget what it was you were looking up in the first place.


Gather up your used index cards. You have a mission. Open your browser or go to a library. Find the answers to your questions — or decide that some of them weren’t really as relevant as you first thought — and write them down.


Return and revise your manuscript with your newfound information, and as a side benefit, a new sense of security because this time you have a better idea of what it is you’re talking about.  The really interesting thing that you’ll discover is that very often, your uninformed instincts about particular topics were more on target than you thought. For example, one of my characters was a 1940s Western director who had trouble finding extras who could actually ride horses. I’d worried that this wasn’t a legitimate plot device for getting another character hired on his film, but when I went to do my research, I discovered that this was indeed a common hurdle for directors of big budget Westerns; furthermore, they were even more frustrated by hiring limits set by the Screen Actor’s guild during the time. I was not only better informed, I was psychic!

This system has worked very well so far. If you’re in need of an extra boost of willpower you can use the index cards while Freedom is on. That should keep you away from the facebook/twitter vortex for at least a little while.

Creating a reading journal (a cozy catastrophe in progress)

Posted in lifehacking, Lists, literature, stationery lust, Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , on March 12, 2010 by katekanno

Here I am in this noisy café, unable to concentrate thanks to a gaggle of chain-smoking obasans complaining mightily about absent friends and their sorely inadequate children.

It’s as good a time as any to update my blog.As I’ve been making my way through the notebook, I’ve been able to devise a my own version of a reading journal and thought I’d share.

Note: I don’t like to choose sections of my notebook for use beforehand: doing so wrecks the fun of writing in it, sort of like slogging carelessly into a pristine patch of snow takes away the magic, so I organize as I go along.

1. Orange is for Reading

This is the reading journal. A work in progress, but basically if the book is certain to contain a lot of words I’ve never heard of, I draw a line down the page. The inner side I use to write those words and the outer edge for quotations, thoughts, or questions.What I like about this system is that it’s an easy way for me to stay honest about what one blogger aptly called “the shit I know I don’t know.”

2. Beige is for Writing.

I don’t really have a system in place here. If I have a story idea or to expand on something in my reading journal, I scribble it down and slap on a tag. That way I can come back and grimace at my leisure.

3. White is for er… Japanese

The move back to Japan demands that I get my ass in gear and start studying the language again. I passed level one of the Japanese proficiency test back in 1997, but 12 years (five of them out of the country) is plenty of time to get rusty. Thus, I added a language section. I use it the same way I do the reading journal, except there’s A LOT more vocabulary space, and my thoughts are mainly awkward practice sentences.

4. Yellow is for Lists

For anything and everything. I’m especially fond of book lists, but they’re also wonderful writing prompts,  great for mining memory and personal experience — a tip from Barbara DeMarco Barrett’s Pen on Fire.

This is what the closed book looks like. I use tags from mujirushi. I love their muted colors. I love their notebooks, too. And their pens. And their lunch boxes, and…I’ll stop now.

That’s pretty much it. It works well so far, but I’m sure that I’ll be wringing my hands over a new class/system soon. How do you organize your notebooks/ reading journals?

Avoiding the Brain Sucker: limiting screen culture, more ghost stories, and notebook hacks.

Posted in blogging, ghost stories, Halloween, lifehacking, literature, old time radio, stationery lust, Uncategorized, writing with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on October 30, 2009 by katekanno

Picture 10Avoiding the brain sucker.

I’ve been limiting my internet hours to the evening, having noticed that I’ve been becoming more and more frazzled and distracted, particularly when it comes to my writing. It’s a creepy experience when you go online to search for specific information only to forget what that was the second your browser appears. This has been scaring me as I’ve always had a steel trap memory, or so my partner complains.

Furthermore, it’s been harming my ability to focus on my writing, and so I’ve decided to stop.

My email can wait until after dinner, so can my podcasts, facebook, twitter, and other interests. It hasn’t been hard really. I get up, and rather than going for that cup of coffee that gives me limitless excuses to go online, I jump into the shower and get dressed. Twyla Tharp in her book The Creative Habit suggests adopting a mundane ritual — hers, is grabbing a taxi — to throw yourself into the right mindset for work. The shower’s worked for me so far.

The hardest part has been writing in longhand, a necessary part of the deal as typing would lure me right back online again. I find I’m more hesitant with a pen, more self-critical, and rather than twitter distracting me, it’s those mean old voices and a desire to snack. Apples have taken care of the latter, but the former, that’s just something you can’t avoid.

At the same time, my writing is less slapdash. I’m less likely to write crap because I know I can go back and fix it later, a mode of thinking that gets me into serious trouble at 10,000 words. I’m no climber, but if I see each word as one foot higher, I’d better damn well be prepared once I get high enough to break my neck. Today, I outlined a story, and although I’m not extremely thrilled with the outcome yet, it is progress.

I’ve also done more dishes, been more helpful to my partner, edited two articles (not mine) and finished reading another book. What’s been interesting and a little unnerving is how hard it was for me to focus on it, at least for a few hours. I had to stop myself, catch my mind wandering, and return to the same paragraph. Reassuring, however, was that I was able to knuckle down after awhile. Using my Piccadilly as a reading journal to jot down new vocabulary, quotations, and thoughts, also helps to keep me physically, if not mentally committed to the reading.

Anyway, one more day til Halloween.

Here is a favorite tale of the occult, Casting the Runes by M.R. James, adapted into an excellent radio program here, and a superb 1957 Val Lewton production with Dana Andrews.

The Thought is a 1950 radio presentation from the Haunting Hour. I don’t know who the writer is, but the Wurlitzer here is out of control. Seriously, I was harried not so much by the story, but by nervously anticipating each blast of the organ. Jeez guys, it’s just a telepath predicting a murder. Lighten up, will ya?

Switching Allegiances

Posted in lifehacking, stationery lust, Uncategorized, writing with tags , on October 6, 2009 by katekanno

Picture 9Some change toothpaste brands; some move to the other side of the political aisle or become apostates. Being non-religious, and a loyalist to Tom’s of Maine toothpaste, I shall switch notebooks.

A while back, trendiness be damned, I was a moleskine nut. For as much nastiness as I hurled at hipsters with their stylishly crumpled cans of Blue Ribbon and designer teas, the moleskine notebook was something I cherished.

Then they became popular, not a problem, except that it lead to their manufacture in China, and a detectable lapse in quality. My partner and my earlier moleskines are still in good shape, the later ones with their torn skin and bent spines? Not so much.

We began considering alternatives. My partner took the plunge into her first Piccadilly. Her reasoning? It’s made in China, so is the moleskine, and this one is a third of what the moleskine costs.

More recently, we’ve done some research, and found this superb website whose mission it is to search the world for the perfect black cover notebook. They too gave the Piccadilly a thumbs up over the moleskine.

So there it is, I’m switching, for awhile at least. Since we’re moving back to Japan, where there will be a fresh stack of temptation in those hundred upon hundreds of unique and tasteful bunboguya, I doubt it will last long.