Writers and Their Notes

Writers and Their Notes


artpad on dark mossy green floorAs writers, we need to come up with a name for all of those little notes we collect with dialogue or story ideas. A writer never throws those slips away, for within their scribbled lines, there a story awaits.

Do you have a cache of notes you refer to for ideas?


I had been considering this as I decided on a calendar for the half-year. I had plenty of calendars on the computer, but the act of writing down a note or meeting in my calendar somehow solidified it in my brain.

Then I chanced upon a study write-up in Psyblog. (Mueller & Oppenheimer, 2014) The study was conducted after one of the researchers, Pam Mueller at Princeton U., noticed that she had better recall of notes when written by hand. She and her co-researcher, Daniel Oppenheimer, discuss the beginnings of their research:

The study’s co-author, Daniel Oppenheimer, had a similar experience, which Mueller explains:

“Danny said that he’d had a related experience in a faculty meeting: He was taking notes on his computer, and looked up and realized that he had no idea what the person was actually talking about.”

This research was also written up in Scientific American, i09, The Atlantic & Psychological Science.

Another great study on the act of physically writing things down can be found at Lifehack.

I have looked up a great many studies on this topic, but the one that hones in on the process is conducted by Timothy Smoker, Carrie E. Murphy, & Alison K. Rockwell and ties the act of psychomotor skills while taking notes by hand and the subsequent recall rate:

This is an investigation into the possible links between psychomotor action, in the activities of handwriting, and memory.

The correlations are solidly behind the psychomotor factor in memory recall. What I wonder is if this will be an evolutionary sort of thing when you consider all of the students today take notes via their laptops or smartphones/iPads. How will this now and in the future affect their learning curves?

(Interestingly, I found the link from Lifehack re: the Norway study quite haphazardly after I had written this post. I point this out mainly to flog myself for not continuing my graduate studies in research. Also, this shows just how important this subject is, for everyone in today’s “go paperless” digital society.)

Further, I wonder how our brains work in the planning stages of something as complex as a novel. I among many have noted that outlining and many times the writing itself, during the creativity stage, is better done by hand rather than computer.

Have you noticed that as well? What are your note taking hacks? Leave them in the comments!

Oh, and I got my calendar. It’s perfect and cheap and has plenty of note-taking space. ;p



3 thoughts on “Writers and Their Notes

  1. Interesting. I’ve found that it is hard for me to write a poem on a device, but it works fine for stories. I use an app called Color Note for storyline notes, it can be used as a text note or a checklist.

    • That is very interesting. Having studied psychology heading into neurology as a post-graduate, my first guess is that poetry uses a more strenuous recall than stories which would require the use of psychomotor skills for poetry. There is certainly a corrolary between the structure of poems and mathematics which would not be necessary for stories. As a poet, I’m sure you would understand this.
      I spend way too much time looking at tools and apps and thus am very pleased at your mention of Color Note. I’m pulling it up on my apps pronto!
      Thanks so much for stopping by, commenting and referring me to a great new app! I will have a look at your newest aricle as I am exactly the person you pictured as you wrote it, I’m sure. ;p

      • Yes, great point – poetry does have a mathematical kind of equation. For me, I have to see the entire poem on paper. I enoy playing with indentation and unique formats. But most of all, you hit the nail on the head with the process itself, namely, that using pen and paper just works better with certain practices like taking lecture notes. Great post.

Any thoughts on this? What is your opinion?