My big project last week was writing a piece on melding analog handwriting tools with digital ones. While doing the research and testing all the different methods a tidbit of information kept surfacing in my thoughts. Years ago I read an interview with actor/poet/artist/musician Viggo Mortensen where he recounted the time he lost three years worth of journals when some jerk broke into his car. I can’t find the original interview, but he talks about it in his introduction to The Best American Nonrequired Reading 2004:
“As I was in the process of moving from one house to another… someone broke into the passenger side window of my car and grabbed the backpack containing several notebooks I’d filled, since early 2001, with handwritten stories and poems. The backpack also contained a couple of journals, two screenplays, my passport, and two half-read books. The hardest losses were the stories and poems in the notebooks. I had been looking forward, in particular, to reviewing and fine-tuning hundreds of pages of, for me, uncharacteristically long and unguarded poetry that had been written during a series of very quiet nights spent in the Sahara Desert in late 2002.
“…I spent a lot of time and effort in the following weeks scouring my part of town, looking through trash cans and alleyways, offering no-questions-asked rewards, doing anything I could think of to find what was irreplaceable for me and probably completely useless to whoever had stolen it. Finally, I let most of it go…”
As writer who keeps a journal, this story makes me ill on so many levels. I don’t know what I’d do if I lost years worth of notebooks all at once. Eventually, I suppose, I’d get tot he same point as Viggo: letting it go because I’d have to. Still, just the thought makes me shudder.
The specific thing that made me recall that story was testing Evernote’s Page Capture feature. You might have heard of this in connection with the Evernote Moleskine notebooks made specifically to work with said feature. Page Capture lets you snap a picture of a handwritten journal page and save it as a high-res digital image. The service will attempt to recognize your handwriting and indexes the words it finds so you can search for them later. The idea is pretty awesome.
You do not need to buy one of the special Moleskines to get Page Capture to work. However, that paper has special dots and markings that help Evernote align the shots correctly. Otherwise, you need a steady hand or one of those smartphone scanner stand things. (Those are not a bad purchase if you have a phone with a good quality camera. No more needing a scanner or spending money on copies at the library.) The Moleskines also come with stickers for auto-tagging that are useful if your notes fall into those five narrow categories. Instead of those, I just use the area at the top of my journal page as a Tag Space where I write my own tags in my clearest handwriting. That way, even if I don’t digitally tag the notes I have a better chance of finding what I want via search.
The idea of scanning a paper journal to a digital file isn’t exactly new. But with smartphones being so wide-spread and the cameras in them getting better and better, I wonder if it’s now just convenient enough that writers would spend a couple of minutes every day adding their journals to Evernote and if that would end up being an effective backup system? I don’t want to give up my paper journal, but I do like the idea of having a copy of it somewhere just in case tragedy strikes. How about you?