Why note-taking is important for writing
To be a better writer, you have to write — a lot. Even good writers are going to write a bunch of bad things. The key is to get the bad words out of the way to make room for the good ones.
That might sound like a bunch of new-age mumbo-jumbo, but it’s serious. Improving at any skill takes practice and time. That includes writing. The more you practice writing, the better you will be.
Some writers spend up to an hour each day just jotting down random ideas to clear their head and prime the pump for productive writing. Often, the best way to do this is by taking notes or journaling. And that’s a practice I’ve taken up in earnest recently.
To be a better writer, you also have to read — a lot. And by taking notes on nearly everything I read, it helps me to retain all of that information. Writing things down means my brain doesn’t have to do all of the heavy lifting of remembering everything.
Why I take notes
Taking notes and journaling is one of the best ways to remember things. As a society, we’re bombarded by more information daily than ever before. Which is amazing — if you’re able to access and process all of that information in a reliable way.
Journaling and notetaking is one way to not only store that information, but it also gives your brain a break. By transcribing down the words to paper, you help exercise your mind in a new way. That’s one of the reasons why I took extensive notes when I was still in school.
Here are just a few of the reasons why I prefer to write down my notes physically, and a few of the ways that this practice has benefited me.
- It forces me to go slower, which allows me to collect my thoughts.
- It gives me a break from always being connected to technology.
- It allows me to jot down stuff in the margins of a day, like before bed.
- I have all of these notebooks sitting around, so I might as well use them.
- It allows me to practice penmanship and keep my handwriting sharp.
What I take notes about
I divide the notes that I take by what I’m writing down. Each different topic has its own notebook. And here are some of the notebooks that I’m currently keeping track of.
- Book notes notebook: I’ve started keeping notes on any nonfiction book I’m reading (fiction books tend to be too plot dependent). So I keep a notebook to capture these ideas. And I even transcribe them and share those notes publicly so you can read them.
- Dad journal: I became a dad in 2019. Since then, I’ve kept a journal with random ideas and observations about fatherhood. My daughter is older now, and she will continue to get older (kids are funny like that). I can’t wait to look back on these notes as she grows up.
- Quiet time notebook: I try to spend some time every day reading the Bible or a devotional. And when I do, I usually keep notes or thoughts in a notebook. For a while, I even copied down books of the bible by hand.
- Random ideas notebook: Everyone has random ideas during the day: weird dreams they had, movie ideas, an invention someone should create. I stick those thoughts in a notebook so that I can go back for inspiration or reference later.
- Storytelling notebook: Usually my creative writing is done on the computer — it’s easier to type fast to keep up with my mind. But sometimes you have to break out the old fashioned pen and paper. So I’ve got a special book for writing parts of creative fiction in longhand.
- Meeting notebook: At work, I keep a notebook specifically for keeping notes at meetings. I never like to do so on a laptop because technology is usually a distraction. Plus, I like it when people compliment my handwriting.
- Conference notebook: I attend quite a few in-person and online conferences every year. Similar to taking notes during meetings, it’s much easier to write down everything I hear in a notebook. Similar to my book notes, I also share these publicly online so you can read them.
Tips for taking notes
Great — so taking notes is good. Hurray for that. But how do you actually do this? How do you practically start taking notes and start making a positive impact on your writing and your life? These are some tips to get you pointed in the right direction.
- Find a notebook that works for you. Some people can be particular about the notebooks they use. One of my favorite authors, Jon Acuff, swears by the Leuchtturm Classic Hardcover to take notes on. I’m more notebook agnostic, but mostly because I have a bunch of random notebooks that I’ve collected from conferences over the years.
- Find a writing utensil that works for you. I may not have a notebook that I prefer. But I do have a pen that I insist on using: uni-ball Signo micro 207. These are the secret sauce to my neat handwriting. I seriously get these pens as a Christmas gift because they’re the only things I’ll write with. It’s okay to be a fanatic about such things.
- Develop a habit of journaling. There’s no use of forcing yourself to write down your thoughts if you aren’t going to use it later or just give up after a few days. Create a regular rhythm that fits your needs and schedule. Start small and stick with it for the long run.
- Keep your notebooks on hand. Put the notebooks where you can easily grab them. I keep my meeting notebook next to my computer so I can always take notes during a meeting. I keep my ideas notebook by my bedside for those late-night ideas. And I always have a few pens scattered around so there is always one within arm’s reach.