Creative Ways To Capture Research Notes

by Dax MacGregor
When my research for my novel-in-progress required hiking in freezing weather, taking notes the traditional way didn't work well. Here's a couple of ideas of how to use technology for even better results.

The standard advice to new writers is to “write what you know.” But what do you do when the story you want to tell wanders into areas that you don’t know. How do you handle that?

You do some research, of course.

My novel-in-progress, The Thread, required the two main protagonists, Ben and Krystal, to be stranded in the Montana wilderness, high up in the mountains, deep inside Flathead National Forest and the only way out is to hike out.

I’ve done a lot of hiking over the years but most of it has been in the Appalachian mountains or in desert-like areas of Southern California. Once, when I was fifteen (a long time ago), I hiked in the Rocky Mountains above Salt Lake City. However, I had never been to Montana, let alone Flathead National Forest.

I’ve completed the first draft of The Thread and I’m getting ready to start my first re-write (after NaNoWriMo). All along I’ve been worried that I hadn’t properly captured the uniqueness of the Big Sky Country wilderness, especially the way it would be during the month of October (which is when the story takes place).

When one of the air carriers sent me an email with a sweetheart deal to Kalispell, I jumped at the chance. I’m in Montana right now!

I spent the day yesterday riding around in a Jeep Wrangler deep as deep in the forest as I could get. Today, I drove to a remote area and spent a few hours hiking into the forest.

I found it difficult to write down my research notes while hiking when the temperature is in the low thirties. I began to wonder if I could use my cell phone as a tape recorder, when I realized I could easily dictate while capturing video. The process worked great.

Here is an example:

Here is another tip. I use Evernote to capture notes whenever I think of something I want to add to my story. What’s great about Evernote is that my notes are available whenever I need them, even on my smartphone. (Yes, there’s an app for that!) The notes can be just about any format from pictures to web pages to rich text, etc. If you take a picture with words in the picture, Evernote indexes them so you can search and find them later.

The best part about Evernote is that it’s free.

This is what works for me. What works for you?


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