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A Writer’s Tool: Note Taking


Earlier this week, I toyed around with this idea that I got a few months back. It all started while I was watching the Brandon Sanderson BYU lectures on YouTube (a great resource that you can access for free on his channel). In the lecture (I don’t remember which one) he talked about the writer’s toolbox. These are just tools/methods that different writers use. He then went on to say that even if you don’t necessarily use every single tool, it’s good to know them. So this past week, I’ve been thinking about my “toolbox.” I then began to think, “maybe I could do a series on different ‘tools’ that I use or that other writers use.”

So here we are!

Today, I’m going to go over something that most people might think a simple tool that doesn’t require much thought, but it truly can be invaluable to writers. That thing is note-taking.

Everyone has taken notes in some way, shape, or form. Whether that is in a classroom, church, a meeting with your boss, or just a reminder for something you need to accomplish later. Everyone takes notes.

But why do writers take notes? Why should they take notes? What should writers take notes on? I’ll go over these questions one at a time, but both answers are quite simple.

Why do writers take notes? This question really doesn’t apply just to writers. Why does anyone take notes? Well, we forget things quite easily, so we write notes to remind ourselves of something. Sometimes we write notes so we can access all the information in one place, and sometimes we write notes to organize our thoughts.

But, why should writers take notes? Well, if you’re like me, you probably get the best ideas for stories at the most random places and times. One of the things I like to do is to carry some form of note-taking wherever I go. More on that in a minute though. Another reason why you should take notes is for reference purposes. I like to go over my notes from different writing videos just to review them and refresh my thoughts on the subject. That’s why it’s good to title your notes! It helps you know what you took these notes on.

What should writers take notes on? Alright, this one will take a bit more time. I don’t want this to be an article that says “just take notes on everything important you hear and that comes to your mind.” Because the best ideas tend to stick with you for a while. If the best ideas are gonna stick with you, why should you write anything down? Well, one big idea for your story isn’t the whole plot! It’s a good idea to write down ideas that you have that you think might be good. But really, what notes you take on your work in progress is really up to you (It could also be called outlining, but we’ll go over that in-depth in a later post). If we’re talking taking notes in classes, videos, or books, I tend to take notes (or underline in a book. Only non-fiction books though!) to help me concentrate on what I’m reading or listening to. I tend to like to write down the main points of the speaker and key tips and tricks that they give. But don’t try and find the key tips and tricks that others got from the video/book/lecture, listen close and write down the tools you find helpful. If I’m watching a video, I go back and write down the exact wording of the speaker. Notes are just really helpful to you when you’re like, “what was that guy saying about this?” And just because you take a note on something doesn’t mean you have to use it later. I’ve taken numerous notes on ideas and I open it a week later and I think to myself, “what in the world was I thinking? That’s an awful idea!” That’s just how it goes sometimes! Writers don’t only get good ideas, they can get bad ones too. You don’t have to use every idea. I tend to only use the ones that I am passionate about and will enjoy writing.

What are some tools that you can use as a writer to take notes? It really will come down to your personality to how you take notes. I use the notes app on my phone to take notes on the go frequently. I also have several different notebooks that I bring with me when I go somewhere to have a writing session. Another tool I’ve used is Scrivener (I use this program for writing my books. I might write an article on it at a later date. Basically, it’s a word processing system built for writers). For several projects (mainly the science fiction one, the screenplay, and the short story collection), I have a running section in which I just fill it with ideas. I know of some writers who just use sticky notes and stick them in places that they can see so that idea stays fresh on their mind. It just comes down to your personality and what works for you. There is no wrong way to take notes!

Note-taking really comes down to the writer. How you take notes is based on your personality. What you take notes on is what you as a writer feel is important to note. I personally have filled up an entire notebook on just different aspects of Enaxelet (my fantasy world) whether that is creatures, history, character, etc. I also have a notebook dedicated to just taking notes from different classes I take on creative writing. Then I have a few documents on Scrivener I just list different ideas for those projects on.

I encourage you to experiment a little bit and find your way of taking notes! What works for you as a writer? What do you feel the need to take notes on? How do you take notes? Let me know in the comments below!


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2 replies on “A Writer’s Tool: Note Taking”

I do think note taking is important, but it becomes such a chore when it’s forced. I like to take my planning notebook with me as many places as I can, but never put myself under any sort of obligation to write anything down. Some days I end up writing whole pages, others I don’t get down a single word.

Lately, I find the amount of ideas I have seem to be severely restricted compared to my creative outflow of months ago. Part of this may be due to a decline in my mental health, but I believe that quarantine does have something to do with it. Being out in the world and exposed to so many new things every day I went to school, the ideas came often, and a lot of them were ones I decided to keep. Now, I have difficulty even wanting to open my notebook, having conveniently placed it under a stack of books in my room.

I believe it will be a long, long time before my series, if things go as planned, will be ready to actually be written. Right now is the time where any and all ideas are welcomed, and I’m slowly crafting the plot and seeing the world take shape around me. Note taking is a good tool, but one I am slow to utilize at this time.

In short, I can’t take notes if there are no ideas to take note off. Hopefully my creativity will return soon to the level it was before. There’s a core element to my story, one that makes it unique; I just don’t know what it is yet. But I can see the plot shaping around it already, and I believe it’s only a matter of time before I figure out what it is. And then you can bet I’ll have a lot of notes to take.

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I agree, creativity shouldn’t be forced because forced creativity tends to turn out not very good ideas that can end up wasting your time. I just bring my notebook as a precaution, not as a way of saying, I must have an idea this trip. I just wouldn’t want to have a really great idea and not be able to write it down!

I also agree that quarantine has restricted our creativity a bit. I definitely get inspired when I’m out and about during daily life. Seeing different things and different people fuel my creativity. So I definitely understand where you’re at right now!

When I’m feeling uninspired I try to sit down and read for a little while. I don’t want to plagiarize that authors work, but if I’m constantly reading then I feel like I get more ideas. This year I have read a ton more new books than I had the previous two years and my ideas have just flowed. I do think there is a connection. The previous year I had gotten severe writers block and hadn’t written anything, but I also hadn’t read anything. When I started reading again, my want to write started to (slowly) come back. So I would recommend trying to read new and fun things! It doesn’t work for everyone, but it’s worth a shot!

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