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Journaling for Creativity.

Journaling media options: How to organise media files

This post forms part of a serialisation eventually building into a complete reference on Journaling for Creativity and the writer's notebook. One that will demonstrate how to journal in order to improve creativity and effectiveness of artists, writers or anyone needing to be creative.

Introduction Contents What Media Options are There Computers and Silicon How to Organise Media Files


Journaling for Creativity: How to organise media files

In the last post we touched on being able to keep track of accumulated digital media files. Since many of the media recordings in the modern creative journal are digital in nature, this is a common problem across all types of digital files supporting a creative journal entry. These files may include photographs, audio recordings, video recordings, scans, downloads or any other digital file that contributes to a specific journal entry. As such, they represent a small management problem for the active journaler.

So this week, we will discuss ways to simplify the necessary file management and how to keep disparate files permanently grouped without turning it into a major chore of the first order. We will also look at a simple method of linking between digital entries, written entries and physical items.

Keeping track of media files in your journal

Consider digital photographs for a moment. When you take a photograph it is unlikely that you will know the file name of the photo. So how do you arrange it that at a later date the photo can be easily located along with any entries in a notebook journal?

In the last post we had a neat tip for this, which I will repeat again:

Neat tip: When photographing any event, always write some quick notes on the top half of a blank page in your journal. These should always include; the date, location and why you are taking the picture(s), plus any other notes that you think are important, for example, names, time, which journal was used etc. Then either the first or last picture of a sequence should be a picture of that note in your journal, just like the clapper-boards that movie makers use. That way, in any set of photos there will be one pointing you to the written journal entry. Later, print out the most iconic photo and stick it in the lower half of the page. You now have a far more attractive, and most importantly, memorable cross-reference.

These quick notes are known as a placeholder entry. So, if you use the photos elsewhere, for example in a scrapbook or in a story-board, then make a note in your journal on that same placeholder entry.

This single journal placeholder entry then becomes the information hub of your entries, where tracks fan out to all your associated journal entries whether, as in the case of photos and sound samples, they are stored in a computer or, as in the case of physical items, stored in an old box, book or envelope.

These ‘tracks’ are not one-way. Being able to find all journal entries for any particular session is extremely important, whether they are digital or physical, and there is a very simple way to do this.

You just need a date. That is all you need, just the date when a particular entry was made.

To illustrate this, let us consider the journaling entry of a possible physical curio. For this example, let us imagine a pine cone.

If, when this particular pine cone was collected, the date was written somewhere on the pine cone, then you have a valuable reference point. Using that date we can find the placeholder entry in our notebook, and from there we can discover if and what other recordings have been made. All entries for that journal record, whether they are physical or digital, whether they are original entries or derived entries such as scrapbooks, can easily be found from knowing just one thing, the date!

The date is the key to navigating around a creative journal made up of many multi-media entries and the sooner you gain the habit of jotting down the date on every journal entry, the sooner your journal will produce rewards.

Occasionally, when you make many entries on the same day, for example during a journaling date, it can be important to note the time of the entry. This time can be extremely useful when trying to order the recordings against other entries taken during the same day.


Digital files and “backwards” dates

The easiest, but not necessarily the most obvious, tool for keeping track of simultaneous multimedia digital entries is the use of backwards dates placed at the front of the file name.

Depending on the local convention, the same date could be written in any of the following formats;

11th May 2013



5/11/13 or confusingly 11/5/13

However confusing these changeable forms might be to humans, once you let a computer loose on them the situation becomes almost humorous. A computer sorts by value and cannot make judgments on possible meanings, so a listing of digital journal entries during May, prefixed with the format from the last example as a key, might end up like;

1/5/10, cats fighting

13/5/10, Equestrian show, Eaton, Grand finale

14/5/10, Equestrian show, Eaton, Riggers clearing site

21/5/10, London, view from London Eye

30/5/10, Plane, leaving England view of London from the air

5/5/10, Equestrian show, Eaton, Starting preparations

The order of events has been scrambled by the computer’s sort routines and trying to find an entry requires some studying of the file names. Once entries from different years are included, the order of files becomes simply insane.

1/5/10, cats fighting

10/5/9, Indoor snowboarding competition, Leeds

13/5/10, Equestrian show, Eaton, Grand finale

14/5/06, Study of old sailing barge, Essex

14/5/10, Equestrian show, Eaton, Riggers clearing site


About now some of you will be thinking, “Yes, but I can order them by the file’s date field.” This is true, but I have had the unfortunate experience of the date field on every one of my files being changed to the same date during a system recovery operation. Be warned, the date field is not as safe to rely on as you may think.

Prefixing the file name with a backwards date solves all this with ease, whilst still being readable by everyone. A backwards date placed at the front of a file name forms an easy and simple key which automatically groups all media files from one session into the same collection, whether it is a sound recording, photo, document scan, video or any other form of electronic file.

Quite simply, all that needs to be done is for the first eight digits of a file name to be a date code made from the date ordered backwards;


Where YY is the year, i.e. 13 for 2013

MM is the month, i.e. 05 for May

DD is the day, i.e. 11 for the eleventh day

,_ is a comma and space, just because a comma followed by a space looks nice

So for the 11th of May 2013 we have the prefix “130511, ”

Notice that we always include leading zeros on months and days less than ten, so that they always stay in the same position; positions three and four for the month and five and six for the day. This, when listed by a computer, will automatically place files in date order, sorted by year, then month, then day.

So taking the entry for the eleventh of May we might have;

130511, cats fighting.avi (video file)

130511, cats fighting.jpg (photo file)

130511, cats fighting.mp3 (audio file)

This way, when we ever want to review that entry in the journal, all the files are together and easy to find.

By also prefixing the file names with a backwards date, you will ensure that entries made before or after that particular experience are adjacent to its files, making it easy to find all the files surrounding a memorable event, or to navigate forwards or backwards along the timeline from a point.

Maybe your personal preference is to place a separator in between the years, months and days, for example:


13/05/11 (Note: “/” is not allowed on all computer systems)

That's fine, just remember to be consistent and include the leading zeros for values below ten.

This method of file naming also has the advantage of assisting a visual search for media files related to a dimly remembered event. Unlike photographs, audio, and other types of media files, do not have a thumbnail preview. However, because all your files are ordered by date, you can scan through a folder displaying thumbnail previews and use the related photographs to locate an event. Once a relevant photograph has jogged your memory, any associated media is also found, along with the date of the placeholder entry. Without this technique, the only way to identify a particular media file is by a slow search for meaningful file names and by playing or opening individual files.


Renaming software

Speaking of meaningful names, many devices simply name the file with a unique reference number which then increments as each photo is taken, for example, DCSF132453, DCSF132454, DCSF132455 etc. Such a file name is useless for identifying photos later, either individually or as a group.

However, modern cameras embed quite a lot of useful information within the ‘properties’ of the photograph that can make organising the files far easier. There are also free software packages on the Internet for renaming files that can use this embedded information and add it to the file name, along with almost anything else you might wish to add. The big advantage with using this type of software is that multiple files can be renamed easily and quickly with useful prefixes and names, which would otherwise be a chore that may never happen if it had to be done manually.

A quick search on the Internet for "Free file renaming" should return many free packages and a few that request payment. The software will allow you to select the embedded information you wish to include in the file name from date, time, camera, etc. as well as giving the same descriptive name to multiple files at the same time.

However, be careful with your program selection. All you really need is an easy-to-use, basic program that can rename files in bulk, with a date code prefix and description. If you get tempted by programs that have so many knobs and whistles on them, there is a risk that you may make far too much of the task than it requires. Let “keep it simple stupid”, be the motto that guides you.


Tags and comments

Modern computer operating systems allow you to add tags and comments to files; the files can then be sorted into groups depending on their tag’s value. Tags can be put on files individually or they can be applied simultaneously to a multiple file selection, which makes adding them a quick and simple task. The advantage of tags and comments are that you can make it far easier to find media files having similar content from a file collection that spans many years. We only have to think of the times when we have been captivated by an old school book or photographs to realise how few of our past memories are kept at the forefront of our minds. The memories are not lost, just archived and always come flooding back with the right memory jog.

130217p, Talla in the Snow 017

The image above illustrates some of the standard information fields available with the Windows file manager; which fields are available will vary depending upon the operating system. It is well worth spending the time to discover what the tagging options are on your computer and how to use them to your best advantage. If you wish to enhance the possibilities and ease of tagging your files, a quick internet search for “file manager tag-based” will bring up file managers, like the free Elyse file Manager, that are optimised towards using tags.


If you have any useful tips on organising files, or experience with software for file management then please share them with us in the comments area below.


Photo credit: Tagged!, by J D Hancock.
Photo credit: IMG_1298_20081119MelbourneRBG_Kauri_Cutler, by W L Cutler.
"Journaling media options: How to organise media files" by Andy Shackcloth is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.

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