Experience teaches us in a millennium what passion teaches us in an hour.
After you train yourself to capture all those creative thoughts, the next step is the storage and filing. One of my sons is terribly creative and always carries pencils, sketchpads and writing paper. He records oodles of brilliant and creative thoughts – futuristic concepts that are just beyond the cutting edge of technology. The only problem is he loses them!
You need some type of basic repository or an elementary filing system. A start can be an idea bank where you deposit all your notes, cocktail napkin doodles, etc. The idea bank could be as rudimentary as a file folder, empty desk drawer, shoebox or a card index file. Computers have great data base systems that can be used for information storage and retrieval purposes.
A word of caution for novice computer users: always back up your files with a second copy (hard copy, floppy disk, zip drive etc.). Hard drives can crash or be eaten by viruses. Further precautions can be taken if you truly value your intellectual property and you are engaged in some large creative endeavor such as writing a book. You might sleep better at night if you developed the habit of routinely storing a back-up copy off site. Kathryn Bates and Elizabeth Ross Kubler (both writers) lost years of research and notes when their houses burned down. I make back up copies of all my work every 3 months and store it at a friend’s house. Furniture and clothes can be replaced; research notes, class materials and current writing projects would be much harder.
For me, writing is both a means and an end. The act of writing and note taking are both therapeutic and a necessary part of my daily life. I love the act of writing and the feeling of accomplishment when articles and books are published.
The more research and writing you do, the more interested you will become learning better, more creative and efficient note-taking techniques. I’m always trying to lessen the drudgery and make the recall and retrieval process easier. I bought a lap top computer thinking that instead of writing notes in long hand and later entering them into the computer, I could combine two steps into one and type instead of write. I discovered that typing inhibits my creativity. I focus more on the process (OOPS, I hit the caps lock key and now I have to backspace to the beginning of the line and start all over) rather than the essence of what I’m writing. When I just let it rip, flow and spew out in my barely legible writing, trusting that I’ll by able to interpret and decipher at data entry time, I seem to establish a direct line to my creativity. The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron is an unequivocal must read, if you are serious about unlocking your creativity. She makes this same point. She recommends that you do your “Morning Pages” in long hand (3 pages of daily journaling). The real value and joy that my lap top computer provides is portability. I can do my data entry wherever I choose – Barnes and Noble bookstore, any comfortable chair at home or my favorite local coffee cafe.
Here are some note-taking tricks that might work for you:
- Next time you go to a seminar or workshop, try this strategy. Establish different categories. For each category, write its name on the top of a different sheet of paper. This will help you decide what type of information you are interested in collecting and will ensure that it will be better organized afterwards. It’s OK to have a misc. category for all that data that you discovered you needed and didn’t plan for.
- Check out a concept called Mindmapping. (If you have a background in data processing you might remember a similar process called entity diagramming.) Mindmapping incorporates the use of symbols in note taking and allows you to place all logical and relevant information together. It’s easier to define complex relationship with symbols and connecting lines rather than the exclusive use of text or narrative. If you were interviewing a busy executive with limited availability and were trying to understand the organizational structure of his company or his department, you would be able to grasp complex relationships involving ideas and people faster and easier. It also facilitates the process of adding and documenting new relationships. Written narrative operates more on a first come first written down structure and evolves into a less logical structure. If you want more information, refer to The Mind Map Book by Tony Buzan.
- Here is a technique that really works for me. I visualize the blank page as having 5 different sections (top, bottom, right margin, left margin and the center). The center is the core and where I place the majority of my notes. I designate the other sections for specialized note-taking requirements or reminder areas. I use the left margin to record other books and authors that I might want to investigate further. The right margin I use to jot down inspirational sayings that I might wish to use in a book or article. The top section is used to list tasks that need to be done ASAP. The bottom is used to jot down notes that are out of context or flow with what I’m writing in the center section. This technique allows me to easily locate sayings, book titles and other specialty data without having to pore through all my notes. It’s a real time saver for me.
- Another variation of the practice is to color code what you write. Maybe red could be used to convey a sense of urgency and blue for topics related to long range planning or projects with no deadline established. If this appeals to you buy yourself a 4-color pen and experiment with it. If it doesn’t work out you still have an unusual pen for only a couple of bucks.