DT as a writer's tool

Since its creators are writers and journalists, I’d like to see DT become more useful in assisting with the writing process. Right now it goes only about half-way toward helping me create an article or book chapter.

  1. Collection: excellent for collecting all sorts of files and showing relationships between their contents.

  2. Analysis: also excellent, via the Search, Classify, See Also, and Concordance commands.

  3. Organization: here big problems arise. I may create folders and sub-folders, but I can’t arrange items in a logical, outline order. DT auto-sorts the items alphabetically, which forces me to use numbers or other codes in the left-hand column.

  4. Drafting: only so-so, in that I may create a draft file, but it has all the limitations of Text Edit: no outlining, no live links, no foot or endnotes, and limited formatting.

Take a look at Hog Bay Notebook: you may drag/drop files or clippings to it and arrange them as you please. When you type in a link, it becomes live. If you type a "mashed" word, it becomes a Wiki-style hyperlink. You may view your notes in several formats, either outline or table style. It has rapid searching, and you may save your data in multiple files. It works nicely with DT, and so it will be my alternative for steps 3 and 4 for the time being.


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thanks for the feedback!

User-defined sorting will be implemented in v1.8 (together with some important interface improvements). Improved drafting might (!) be part of v2.0 but this has not yet been decided.

I’m wondering if I’m barking up the wrong tree, as an intuitive writer - though it’s too late now! I’m hooked on DevonThink as a more intelligent, personal Finder. Let Finder manage the computer - I’ve never seen my thinking-writing brain respond to anything like DevonThink.

Here’s my question, though. I wonder if I’m forcing DT to be what it is not, and whether then my system will eventually break down - because I don’t intend to let anything out of my sight! I feel like I may never use it to Search for anything, because what DT does, for me, is to array my collected material and miscellaneous writings in an almost perfect balance of taking it in at a glance without having to actually read. Thus I may remain in intuitive or global thinking, whilst enjoying some sense of organization - and this majorly serves the writing process.

Having said this, though - one also wants certain things to remain in the dark. The collected web miscellany, the someday stuff, the manuals and docs.

Should I create another, hidden database for that  material? But no, what I want is rather like leafing through a scrapbook -   besides, DT only offers one?

Or, should I create one visible folder in the folder tree called Data, where I dump everything I feel the need to see - so that visible folders will automatically, then, be important, working material.

Then there’s the strong desire to database my own writing, in order to see it and think it in that wonderful DevonThink browser - but not to mix it up with, horrors, the tons of miscellany one collects!

Am I asking too much? It seems as though the app offers both - the rich compost heap, in the dark, and that lovely, lovely browser window, with just the right level of workability.

Sign me, Torn. This is really tough stuff!  I do use NoteBook as well, but that hasn’t helped answer this.

Sorry, there’s one more part.

Howarth wrote:
>1. Collection: excellent for collecting all sorts of files and showing relationships between their contents.

But I, in the way I write, don’t want to be shown the relationships. Writing is, for me, a process of discovering connections.

My sense is that DevonThink can suit that process, too - but I thought I’d better check in with its makers!


DEVONthink Pro will support multiple databases - e.g. you could create one for archived material and one for working material (writing). Or one for private and one for professional usage.

Shireen, will DEVONthink Pro allow searches spanning multiple databases? What about any limitations on database size, compared to DEVONthink PE?

Hey, I am all for intuition…it’s the heart and soul of writing. But I also believe in structure, which gives us the bones and blood.

DT has the flexibility to be totally freeform, a place where I toss all sorts of data, or it may have folders and sub-folders, organized by projects or chapters. I use it for a little of both.

Either way, the Search, Classify, and Concordance commands help me bring together bits and pieces of data that I might not otherwise connect.

As I said above, my main beef is that I can’t use DT as a true outliner. I understand that will happen by version 1.8, but I wish it were much, much higher on the list of priorities!


searching across multiple databases will not be possible in the initial release - might follow later. And the number of images/PDF documents per database is unlimited (otherwise there are no limitations in DT PE).

This may be a new thread, but it relates to using DT as a writer’s tool, so I will post it here.

As DT keeps evolving, my use of it does, too. The latest change is the fact that I may drag URLs to DT and when I click on that item, the stored address auto-loads the Web page.

That represents an advance over what I used to do: copy the text of a Web page (say from an online newspaper or magazine), create a new Rich Text item, and save it. The saved item might be anywhere from 6 to 25 kb.

If I just save the URL, I will see the same entire story and the item is 0 kb. That suggests that I can dump many of my bookmarks into DT and barely expand the database in size.

But how stable and reliable is that data? Most of the newspapers archive their stories in a few weeks, in order to charge for access. When I try to load their URLs, I’ll get a Not Found or 404 Error or Please Pay. (That means I’ll also not be able to use DT to search the contents of the URL items.)

So now I have to decide if the URL will survive for a while or if I need to make a Rich Text copy of the story contents. That adds a layer of complexity to the research process, which is already complicated enough.

Is this where the Archive facility of DevonAgent could help me out? Are those URLs stored as full texts? I am a little confused about why I should use the DA Archive, now that DT is becoming a browser of its own.

This is a terrific thread-- sort of a peek into the raw creative process of various writers.  I just read zo219’s entry here, it described my own dilemma exactly, ie, is DEVONthink best suited to store my own ramblings or the collected ramblings I gather from elsewhere.  Trying to use it for both just cluttered up my thinking.

Ultimately, I found that it suits me best as a project manager for my own work.  I have folders at the root level in list view for new ideas, fiction, non-fiction, a dream log, etc.  I have subfolders for drafts of a project or related notes (such as a character sketch) in either notebook or outline view, depending on what makes sense.  I find this very useful as visual proof that I am indeed making progress and building a war chest of material to draw from.  When I’m ready for a final draft, I typically move out of DT into a word processor.

For all those gathered bits of stuff from the Web and such, I created a folder hierarchy in the Finder called “My Database” with subfolders representing my various interests.  Like zoe219, I don’t really need to be shown the relationship between things.  I like to discover those myself by browsing through my archive.  Also, I found that DT is still a little weak for viewing PDFs and web pages (although the latter is much improved in 1.7.5), and then there’s oddities like RealAudio archives.  Sure, you can drag in a file link, but what’s the point?  It’s just easier for me to leave all that stuff in folders and view it in the native application, rather than try to cramb it into DT and put up with some of the compromises.  If I can’t remember where I put a piece of information, the DEVON people have kindly provided EasyFind to help me track it down.

I hope this doesn’t sound like I’m bashing DT,  because I just love it.  When I first bought it, I tried to force it to be my all-purpose information clearing house, which only left me frustrated.  Now that I’m using it in a way that suits me better, I’m finding that it helps bring clarity to my work.  I wouldn’t want to be without it.

Why don’t you use the “Take Plain/Rich Notes” services? They perform exactly the same operation but all you have to do is press Cmd-) or Cmd-(.

Personally I store only links to websites I want to visit again (a temporary link) or to websites I visit more or less regularly. But I copy information I’m interested in always to the database (either as a rich text or an HTML page).

No, the DA archive is basically only useful for users who don’t own DT or who want to save their search results in a different place.

Does anyone using DT as a writer’s tool tried integrating DA in the workflow? Seems to me that both can complement each other rather well, specially in the research phase but I would like to hear the opinion of more experienced users.

Thanks! =)

I’m using DA as a Web crawler because it gets better results than Google or other search engines. With a commercial search engine, you’re stuck with the syntax it devises and limited to the sites it has crawled. Lately, Google has begun to fiddle with Page Rank: they deny it, but if you pay advertising fees to Google, your pages get a higher ranking (and show up first in the search results).

So, although DA is not fast, it’s thorough and more of its results are useful. My habit is to store the best hits in the Archive, under relevant headings. I can review them with DA’s browser, and it they seem really pertinent to a current writing project, I transfer them to a DT folder. Since they are URLs, the browser in DT shows the relevant page quickly.

When I wrote a previous entry on this thread, I thought that the URLs would not be indexed, but they are: when I run a search on a key word, URLs show up with that word highlighted. I don’t know what this means in terms of the DT database size, but it does not seem to enlarge mine, now hovering at 60 mb.

A cool feature in DA is that you may create your own crawler sets and have it search only those sites. Try File: New Crawler and see if DA has not already copied the Favorites or Bookmarks stored in your web browser. You may edit these and create other sets based on the needs of your writing project. It’s a great way to keep up on sites that are frequently updated.

I’m sure there are many other ways that DA can help a researcher-writer and would like to hear about them.

My creative background is in editing film and video. I am presently writing a film treatment/script for the first time. I’ve been on a software search and learning curve for the way I want to work on the project. Having demoed all the Usual Suspects along the way, I ended up purchasing and working with the following: OmniOutliner, DEVONthink, CP NoteBook, Keynote, NovaMind.

When I began this journey I did my brainstorming in OmniOutliner. I dragged articles, interviews etc. off the web into TextEdit or HTML files, and organized them in the Finder. That worked OK … but then I got this crazy idea in my head that I’d go looking for the Holy Grail.

First I discovered DEVONthink. I loved the features of Servicing material from the web, the AI classification of documents, and the searching tools. So I imported my existing database of TextEdit and HTML files, and transferred my OO text into DT.

Then I was introduced to NoteBook. (is anyone smiling because they’ve gone through this journey before me?) I was intrigued by the idea of a notebook structure and being able to incorporate photographs and illustrations. Working in NB the project evolved into a large sketchbook. The results of that work are now being transformed into a Keynote presentation.

The latest application to arrive in my life was NovaMind. I began using it for mind-mapping the structure of the film. I was quickly seduced by its graphical interface, and was actually tempted to do the writing there (you can have text or screenplay script attached to each branch). But what do you do with the drafts and ideas that don’t have a mind-map branch? And to access the text you’ve got to open a window for any given branch. I prefer the visual access of Note Pad View in DT, or expanded cells in NB and OO. And you don’t have the searching tools of DT or the indexing of NB.

Note: one cool feature is the Screenplay Preview, which consolidates the branch and attached text into a single document, based on the ordering of elements in the mind-map. If the screenwriting module improves by the time I’m ready, I may do the screenplay there because I do not enjoy working with Final Draft software.

But I digress, back to the thread …

Now I’m wanting to focus on the writing. To take the raw material and ideas … and draft it into the treatment, which will then hopefully develop into a screenplay. Being new to the writing process, I sometimes feel like I’m in a quandary about the method or approach in terms of my relationship to the software.

I do recognize that I have a desire to work in one place … a creative writing center for the project … rather than having the work spread out over two or three applications. But perhaps that is unrealistic? I’m comfortable bouncing back and forth from the mind-map in NM to the writing, but I don’t want to spread the process farther than that.

I’m currently working with DT to be that one place to write. But sometimes I encounter these moments when I wonder if I would benefit with NB or OO still in the process. The thing is I’m not certain why I get this feeling. But if you’ve experienced something similar, perhaps you can enlighten me?

As an editor, I worked with a project structure of bins … folders containing film clips, sound clips and still images. The folders would be organized by topic for the raw material and then by section as the composition developed. I’ve found myself structuring DT in a similar way.

At the top level my DT Browser folders are:

Act 1, Act 2, Act 3, etc. (for organizing scenes, one document per scene)

Characters (for keeping character/relationship notes, one document per character)

Ideas (the starting place for all my ideas, one document per idea)

Resources (articles, interviews, quotes, misc text, books, DVDs, CDs, images)

Drop Box (the starting place for clippings and images that I capture)

I would appreciate getting observations from outsiders such as yourselves. I’m so much inside my own writing box (inexperienced such as it is), and my learning curve of these applications, that I could easily be missing some perspectives on how this can be done.

The part of the process that I’m particularly wondering about is this … is there a better way to manage Ideas? As it is, when an idea strikes I quickly create a new document, do a mind-meld with the PowerBook, and toss the result into the Ideas folder. Of course this new idea could be two sentences or seven paragraphs.

As the composing process unfolds two things occur frequently. [1] I’ll ask myself, where does this idea go? Is this idea completely new and different? Or does it belong with/modify an idea that already exists? [2] I’ll discover that one or more ideas will consolidate into a new or existing scene.

During this process I find myself stepping through the documents in the Ideas folder, and scanning the document titles and their contents (Note Pad View). But like I mentioned above, sometimes I get this nagging feeling that perhaps I might be better off if I was using NB for notating and organizing these ideas … or using a linked OO file for notating and organizing these ideas. Then after they’re developed a bit, bringing the text into DT for writing the draft.

But I’m not convinced. Perhaps its just the large volume of Idea documents accumulating that is intimidating me. I do like being able to use the DT search tools and seeing all the related documents appear … even if some are only 1 or 2 sentence Idea documents.

OK, this is long enough. End it now or perish!

I’ve read the other threads here in Usage Scenarios, but would like to rekindle the flame …

I realize that some people prefer using outliners in their writing process and some do not. For those of you who have DT and NB, or DT and OO … do you use them both on the same project, and if so why? and if so how? And perhaps you’ll have some feedback relating to my process described above.


>The part of the process that I’m particularly wondering about is this … is >there a better way to manage Ideas? As it is, when an idea strikes I >quickly create a new document, do a mind-meld with the PowerBook, and >toss the result into the Ideas folder. Of course this new idea could be two >sentences or seven paragraphs.

>As the composing process unfolds two things occur frequently. [1] I’ll ask >myself, where does this idea go? Is this idea completely new and different? >Or does it belong with/modify an idea that already exists? [2] I’ll discover >that one or more ideas will consolidate into a new or existing scene.

You’ve evolved a method of writing that makes sense to you, but it could be that DT will release you from worrying about too much about where ideas should “go” or how you will “manage” them.

Because the Find command locates words or phrases so quickly, you don’t need to arrange your materials all that carefully. I have found that a few broad generic folders work better than many sub and sub-sub folders.

It’s also easy to copy or clone parts of files, by selecting and dragging the text into the outline pane, where it becomes a new item that you may re-title. (the new item is a copy; the original is unchanged). So if you think an idea belongs in several other locations, that’s a quick way to move it.

With a creative project like a novel or film, a writer usually gathers lots of broadly suggestive information and then begins to build character profiles or back stories. They in turn suggest a timeline of events. The characters and events then generate story-telling, where backflash and foreshadow replace linear time.

As the story line emerges, it may make sense to move items into folders that represent story units, whether they be chapters, acts, or scenes.

I highly recommend NOT using other software, on other machines, but to write everything in DT. Your drafts can be a set of folders, and you may write small chunks as discrete items, labeled as Scene 23.1 or whatever.

By keeping all research, brainstorming, and draft in the DT database, you may quickly find where you mentioned the character Belinda or used the word "octopus" or placed a URL that has a map of 1940s London.

At least that has worked for me, and I would not have thought so even 6 months ago, when I launched this thread. DT Pro is going to be an even more powerful and flexible tool for researchers and writers!

See writing tools blueprint:

homepage.mac.com/bobembry/studio … tools.html

Modification suggestions welcome

I’m a journalist, author and journalism professor. I’ve just found out about Devon and am probably going to buy my very first software (everything else has always been included with my computer or my job) from them. Trying to decide between DT and DN, but I can already tell they’re better than the others I’ve tried (iOrganize, ZWrite, Parsnips, StickyBrain) for my purposes.

I appreciate hearing how other writers are using the app; very helpful to me. Here’s how I’m planning to use DN (or DT), followed by requests for features. If Christian or Eric want to move the suggestions to the recommendations section of this site, that’s fine with me, or just answer here.

For writing columns and short pieces, I’m actually hoping to use it to replace Word and AppleWorks. With all the free Services available (thesaurus, word count, spellcheck, etc) from Devon and elsewhere, I’ve found that I don’t really need most functions of a word processor anymore, as I almost never print or do much formatting beyond the basics.

I like the sidebar outlines available in Zwrite, iOrganize and Mellel, but I realized I can make DN work the same way – just make each note an outline point, so I can easily jump around between topics, then merge everything when I’m done. So I’m going to use one DN window (on the right) for the piece I’m writing writing, and another on the left to display the notes I’ll use in writing my pieces. If I then need more formatting, I’ll use AW or Word, but I’m hoping to use DN for most of my actual writing. And I can keep my original notes all in the database in case I need to refer to them again.

The other function will (I hope) be organizing my research for a biography. I have a Hypercard stack that lets me sort cards by topics, including chronological order. But since Apple hasn’t supported Hypercard in ten years, I want a modern replacement. DN comes close, except that, since I’m new, I haven’t quite figured out how to make DN re-sort notes in chronological order of events (the way I had it set up to in Hypercard) or by various topic areas. I know there are ways to have the same info organized in multiple ways (like replicants, links, etc) in Devon, but these seem clunky to me compared to just typing in, say, “place” and hitting “sort” in Hypercard and voila, all my notes that have to do with, say, San Francisco, regardless of date, appear together, or hit “year” and then “sort” and have the whole stack of notes (cards) magically reorder themselves chronologically by event. I’d appreciate any suggestions about how to achieve this function in Devon. I guess I can always just type in the place or date in the search field, but i’s not quite the same.

I’d also appreciate any advice about whether I need DT to do this, or if DN will be enough. I mostly work with text and web pages, so I don’t really need some of the advanced features of DT. The comparison chart says that DT offers more search features than DN, but I’m not sure I understand the difference fully – can someone explain them to me?

The last thing that would really help on my book in progress would be the ability to import my hundreds of hypercards into DT or DN without pasting each one into a new note. the HC stack can be exported into a tab delimited text file, but I don’t think Devon can import that file and turn each card into a separate note. If I’m wrong, please let me know!

Anyway, after asking around and trying lots of different apps to accomplish these two functions, I think I’m about ready to commit to Devon during the holiday sale. I just have to figure out which one!
thanks for any answers to the questions above.

great thread, i’m a new DT user but i’ll throw my 2 cents in anyway.

I love DT as a research, organization and retrieval tool but I don’t see it as a writer’s tool for the creation of documents. In my opinion, trying to use it for that purpose it like trying to use a drill to pound a nail. Great tool, wrong job.

After much searching I’ve settled on an absolutely terrific app for writing called Ulysses. It’s early in its maturity cycle so it’s only going to get better, but this thing is terrific. I downloaded a demo and was so impressed I bought it 24 hours later. Trying to explain all that it does is virtually impossible, so rather than take up space here lauding this app I’ll refer you to the website:


I use DT for capturing all the disparate pieces of information I come across or dream up, i use CP Notebook when I want to take notes or do writing in a hierarchical/strict outline format, I use NovaMind when I want to brainstorm or take notes in a more freeform format (different material begs for different forms, at least for me), and I use Ulysses for actual writing (and the full screen mode is indispensable for serious writers).

Right now I’m very happy with the way these 4 apps fill needs for me. I’d be even happier if the proprietary formats of the other 3 played nicely with DT, but there are ways around that (export to formats it does recognize).

Each is a powerful app in its own right that fills needs the others don’t and can’t. but again, for you writers, I urge you in the strongest terms, go check out Ulysses and give it a try. It is, by FAR, the best writing tool I’ve found outside of a quiet room and a good cup of coffee.

The only possibility at the moment is probably to sort views by creation or modification date but as those dates are not editable, maybe this won’t solve your problem. However, upcoming releases will include custom columns including dates.

For example, DT provides the concordance panel and multiple separate search windows (e.g. to compare search results easily).

That’s not (yet) possible but if you could send me an example file (tab delimited), I’ll check if it’s possible to add this to one of the next builds.

Thanks to rmathes in my old hometown of Austin for the suggestion of Ulysses. It looks promising, if a little spendy (even for an academic like me eligible for the edu discount), but what I see is intriguing enough for a test drive. It could be very useful.

But I’m not sure I do enough formatting to really need a word processor all that often, what with all the possibilities offered by Devon, Services and even TextEdit now. I do have AppleWorks and Word (last resort) when necessary (like today when I was redoing a syllabus and needed to throw in a page break), but most of the time, I just need the basics – spellcheck, ruler, find & replace, word count, italics, etc. Still, I’ll give Ulysses a try. I’ve also been saving or exporting all my files as rtfs for the last year or so to give me flexibility to use different products for my text work.

Thanks also to Christian for the advice about DT and DN searching. I’m thinking that DN is really all I need for my purposes now, and the low price appeals. I’m sending one of my smaller stacks via PM to see if you can figure out a way to transform those cards into notes.

I must say, the personal attention and quick response shown in these forums by the creators of Devon and the sense of community displayed by other users (especially other writers) is a big incentive for me to buy the product. I appreciate your commitment to the apps and the users, and I’m happy to be joining you.