We live in interesting times. Take good notes.

Apr 14, 2020 | Better Writing

The coronavirus pandemic is only the latest thing to make our times interesting. There’s also polarized political discussion, the threat of global warming, and the threat of economic chaos. It’s the time to take good notes.

You’re going to want to write about the things that are happening now. To do it well and accurately, you must take good notes. You’ll want to recreate what you thought, how you felt, and what people actually did.

Capture Facts, Emotions, and Ideas

Human memory is fickle and fallible. When things happen, you must take notes, so you’ll remember what happened.

Capture incidents and ideas as close to when they happen as possible. You must have an idea capture tool with you to do that. Some people use small pocket notebooks. Others use index cards. Some people capture notes digitally with their phone or a small digital recorder.

Collect What You’ve Captured

One of my mentors, Don Deffner, had a fascinating way of collecting his insights. First, he assigned every pocket in his clothing to a different project. Throughout a day, he’d capture his insights on small scraps of paper and put the paper in the relevant pocket. At night, he emptied the pockets. He put the scraps of paper in a wooden tray on his dresser. There was a space in the tray for every project. When he had collected several notes, he gave them to his secretary to type out and put in a file.

That’s an elaborate system, but it helped Don produce a ton of books. The notes about what he thought and how he felt helped him keep his insights fresh when they showed up in a book.

You don’t have to go to such extravagant lengths, but you do need to collect your insights. If you capture them with a notebook, you already have them collected, the problem will be retrieving them when you need them. If you use index cards, you can file the cards themselves, or transfer your notes to a file. If you used digital means to capture your insights, you must transcribe them into a file.

A Journal Is A Wonderful Thing

If you’re a writer, your journal or writer’s notebook is where you collect ideas and emotions. This has the great advantage of allowing you to reflect on them as you record them. You may have one journal for everything. Or, like many scientists, you may choose to have a separate journal for each project.

Trust Your Brain

The most amazing information-processing device in the world is right up there between your ears. Let it do its thing.

Your brain is great at bringing up the memory of an idea or incident, along with when and where you captured it. Alas, it doesn’t do that on command. You must give it some space.

Take a break when you’re working on a project and do something that lets your brain help you. You want something you can do on autopilot, so you can leave your brain free to come up with insights and memories. The best thing I know is taking a walk. Any mindless activity will do. That’s why you get great ideas in the shower or when you’re exercising or driving.

This is another place where capture is important. Capture your brain’s insight or its connection between ideas so that you can use them in your project.

Bottom Line

When you live in interesting times, you’ll stumble on many things to write about. Capture the details. Capture your insights and ideas. Collect them and review them. When you get down to work, allow your brain to help you connect them and bring them to your attention.

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