Reading Gro’s comment yesterday about simply dedicating three-four hours a day to one’s main project, I decided to work at home today and focus on writing. But, um, of course I needed to start with a little blog reading to get me in the mood and along the way I found all these academic lifehack tools. I’m rather interested in DEVONthink, which I think I must have heard of before but not really looked at. Steven Johnson’s article for the NY Times about using it while writing sounds so seductive:

What does this mean in practice? Consider how I used the tool in writing my last book, which revolved around the latest developments in brain science. I would write a paragraph that addressed the human brain’s remarkable facility for interpreting facial expressions. I’d then plug that paragraph into the software, and ask it to find other, similar passages in my archive. Instantly, a list of quotes would be returned: some on the neural architecture that triggers facial expressions, others on the evolutionary history of the smile, still others that dealt with the expressiveness of our near relatives, the chimpanzees. Invariably, one or two of these would trigger a new association in my head — I’d forgotten about the chimpanzee connection — and I’d select that quote, and ask the software to find a new batch of documents similar to it. Before long a larger idea had taken shape in my head, built out of the trail of associations the machine had assembled for me. (Steven Johnson, NY Times

Apparently the idea is you feed all your documents and pdfs and possibly relevant emails (folders of archives of mailing lists, perhaps?) and whatnot into it and of course you can then search them all through it but the most interesting thing is it’ll find connections itself.

Sounds cool, eh? I’ve installed the free trial, have imported my “Documents/work/research” folder and am going to give it a go. To help me get started, I’m using Steven Johnson’s explanation of how he uses DEVONthink in practice. If you have experience with DEVONthink (or something similar) I’d love to hear about it!

2 thoughts on “enlisting AI in my writing

  1. dave

    I have been using Devon for about six months now, and my brief comment is that I love the software. I am not one who is big on paying for applications, but I would pay three times as much for this progam as what they charge (there is an academic discount). I also just started using Agent which is equally as useful. The only problem with the program is acutally figuring it out enough to utilize all of its power, but the on-line tutorials are helping, and the forums are also useful. I am going to be covering a few uses specific to academics (humanities) at my site, so if you have requests let me know. (

  2. collin

    Haven’t gotten into DT as much as I’d like yet, but Merlin Mann had a nice discussion of it at 43 Folders a few months ago:


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