Ben Pollock Knows When to Folder

Ben PollockBy Ben Pollock
NSNC President

Who among us still owns a typewriter?

My Smith-Corona manual portable that saw me through high school and college is in the attic, but it works. On a desk for addressing envelopes is a bulky Royal office manual. I bought it when the Arkansas newspaper for which I interned in 1979 had been using computers for a year and saw there was no going back.

Every once in a while I love to hear the clacking and bell, to hit keys instead of tapping them. It’s inefficient to write a whole column on a typewriter then keyboard it into a laptop, unless it’s a project that needs a hard revision. Then the act of writing it all again leads to discovery of problems.

The last use for my typewriter has been developing column ideas, drawing them out, seeing if there’s anything to those “hmm notes” I discussed in the May 2011 e-Columnist (and blogged about in 2005: My system probably is not original (what is?), but its source is forgotten.

Three Folders

Hmm notes are a few words jotted on the index card or smartphone you keep in your pocket to grab snippets of ideas or conversation so you don’t chance forgetting them.

When personal computing was new and cumbersome more often than not, I kept three manila folders handy. They were labeled Short, Medium and Long.

That card could be dropped in the Short folder, but it worked better to type out the hmm note on a clean sheet of paper, always adding the date. The typing could lead me to pulling out more of what I was thinking at the time. Just a paragraph. Sometimes, I was drawn to tossing it in the trash.

Every so often, those Short pages grew to a half-page, maybe nearly a page. Such half-pagers would go into the Medium folder. Very handy on a deadline day when you draw a blank.

If the Short or Medium page, drawn into a longer sketch actually grew into most of a full column — it would go into the Long folder. Put an hour onto a Long page and you have a column ready for polishing.


The three-folder concept technically was very easy to transfer over to a Mac or PC: Create the folders and put them on the desktop or inside the Documents folder. But my hard drive is such a wreck-full of files that it never was practical. Paper still was quicker, often handwriting the Shorts, Mediums and Longs.

Microsoft’s Word and Apple’s Pages word processors had little impact on Three Folders, except for the complication of maneuvering around all their options.

Then in 2008 I started a 30-day free trial of Scrivener software. It’s an app intended for writers writing. I’m adept at Word and Pages, but there’s more to organizing, filing research, and brainstorming and finding those ideas again, than what they offer. Scrivener handles all that. It has a lot of options, for all kinds of projects, yet they’re pretty easy to find and wonderfully easy to avoid. It’s designed for writers who may not work in a logical order.

So I gave $45 via credit card (updates are free). Literature & Latte is the company of an Englishman, Keith Blount, who had the programming chops to develop Scrivener after years of frustration writing on computers.

There are a number of well-regarded, writers’ programs — check and — but Scrivener is a good fit for me. While it is designed for long-form projects, such as novels, it has speeded up my blog-columns. Also, it can turn a project into the main e-book formats with a few clicks.

The Three Folders strategy works great in Scrivener, but otherwise, just leave the folders easy to find. Those electronic envelopes stay inside Scrivener’s “binder.” The Short folder (now also called Idea Jab) works as before. When I add some sentences to a file there, I drag it to Medium (Sketch).

In an ideal world, I’d check these folders daily. I’d troll through Medium then Short. In Medium I might open a file based on something I’d heard on NPR that morning and add a few paragraphs. Hey, give me a half-hour and there’s enough for a drag-and-drop into the Long (Scene) folder.

Years ago with paper, and now electronically, nothing stays in Long for long, because those essays are as good as finished.

Like now.

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  1 comment for “Ben Pollock Knows When to Folder

  1. January 16, 2012 at 1:29 pm

    Good stuff. Love how-to stories like this.

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