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Robert Caro's outliner

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Posted by Gorski
Apr 15, 2012 at 12:47 PM

 

Some of you will appreciate this, from a profile of Robert Caro in The New York Times:

> On a corkboard covering the wall beside Caro?s desk, he keeps an outline, pinned up on legal-size sheets, of “The Years of Lyndon Johnson.” It’s not a classic outline, with indentations and numbered headings and subheadings, but a maze of sentences and paragraphs and notes to himself. These days, part of the top row is gone: the empty spaces are where the pages mapping the new book used to be. But there are several rows left to go, and 13 additional pages that won?t fit on the wall until yet more come down. Somewhere on those sheets, already written, is the very last line of “The Years of Lyndon Johnson,” whatever volume that turns out to be. I begged him more than once, but Caro wouldn’t tell me what that line says.

http://www.nytimes.com/2012/04/15/magazine/robert-caros-big-dig.html

And a picture of the outline:

http://www.nytimes.com/slideshow/2012/04/15/magazine/robert-caro-process-7.html

 


Posted by Dr Andus
Apr 15, 2012 at 01:17 PM

 

Yes, this sort of large scale visualisation is one area where computer programmes are at a disadvantage. I wonder if something similar could be achieved in the near future using projectors? I suppose we already have electronic whiteboards which are fairly big and if outliner software were supporting them, could be used similarly. Once we will be in the brave new world of wall-sized computer screens like in that Tom Cruise movie, this will be a piece of cake…

 


Posted by Dr Andus
Apr 15, 2012 at 01:32 PM

 

But otherwise Caro’s system reminds me of ConnectedText. There are individual notes, there are filing cabinets with the notes, there are notebooks that contain the index, there is an edit mode (the handwritten paper), a view mode (the typewritten paper), and a Navigator (his corkboard). The main difference is that he’s got a massive “monitor” that also allows him to display several notes simultaneously, which CT can’t do. So if CT had another visualisation mode where it could display several notes (“topics”) side by side, where they could be freely shuffled around, and if this mode (window) could be projected onto a wall or displayed in an electronic whiteboard, CT would be an electronic version of Caro’s system.

 


Posted by Gary Carson
Apr 15, 2012 at 02:33 PM

 

This is a beautiful system. Absolutely beautiful. I love its minimalism and efficiency. His office is fantastic. I particularly like his SC Electra 210.

Working like this focuses your attention on what’s important: the actual planning and composition. Nothing focuses your concentration like writing longhand, for instance. All these tools we obsess about constantly are completely incidental to the “actual using of the brain,” to paraphrase a line from an old Seinfeld episode.

I also think the old-fashioned hard copy corkboard outlining method he’s using here is a million times more efficient than ANYTHING you’ll ever get from ANY program on ANY computer. You can scan the entire outline in a matter of seconds—nothing is faster than a visual scan. Full sheets of paper work much better than index cards because they can hold more information. You need the wall space, though.

Note how meticulously he prepares and organizes everything. This is a MENTAL skill. It has nothing to do with specific tools.

Fantastic. Thanks for posting this.

 


Posted by Dr Andus
Apr 15, 2012 at 03:01 PM

 

Gary Carson wrote:
>I also think the old-fashioned hard copy corkboard outlining
>method he’s using here is a million times more efficient than ANYTHING you’ll ever get
>from ANY program on ANY computer. You can scan the entire outline in a matter of
>seconds—nothing is faster than a visual scan. Full sheets of paper work much better
>than index cards because they can hold more information. You need the wall space,
>though.

You don’t just need wall space. You need a big office for the desks, space for filing cabinets etc. These are expensive resources. This is where computers introduce some social justice: they allow people with less means to achieve something very similar. The computer is a space-saving device.

Now that fairly large monitors are available on the mass market with high resolution, it should be possible to emulate at least partially this sort of corkboard solution. Personally I haven’t made much use of Scrivener’s corkboard exactly because only a summary of the document is available. I’d prefer to see a larger unit, such as A4.

 


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