The Writer’s Well Episode 177: How Do You Organize and Use the Information You Learn about Writing?

J’s on break for a few weeks, so the awesome Jeff Adams joins Rachael today on the show! Together, they talk about what they actually DO with all those pages of great ideas they bring home from conferences and summits, in person or virtual. 

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21 thoughts on “The Writer’s Well Episode 177: How Do You Organize and Use the Information You Learn about Writing?”

  1. Morning guys. Great substitute. Hello Jeff.
    I always take a new notebook to a conference, but I love conferences where one gets a notebook with conference logo as part of the merchandise (take note conference organisers). I go into a session thinking, what is the one thing I can take from this session? I don’t try to record everything.
    When I get home I read my notes and try to decide what is the one thing I should try.
    Once one has been to a few conferences and listened to a few podcasts, some things become repetitive enough to become important or learned sufficiently that one doesn’t need to take notes. I can’t implement everything, the writing must get done.
    I think one should be careful of the “jumping on bandwagons” addiction. Because a writer achieved success from doing A doesn’t mean I will be able to repeat that success, especially if we write in different genres. And before I have had time to implement A, I might hear another writer tell me I should try B, then another tell me to try C. Better to do one thing well, than lots of things poorly.
    The best way to have a long career is to write a lot. The best way to improve one’s writing is to write a lot (and learn to improve one’s writing). After a conference it is easy to believe one should be doing this or that, but I always return to the writing because I am a writer.
    Great show today.

    1. Christopher, you distilled that down so well. You’re totally right that it should all come back writing because that it the point of all of this. It’s too easy to get distracted by all the other shiny objects. I also couldn’t agree more on doing one thing well than a lot of things poorly.

  2. Good morning Rachael and Jeff
    Great question
    i have notebooks, a whole shelf of notebooks with ideas from podcasts, the one conference I managed to get to, an online conference, online courses, books on writing etc
    Sometimes I go back and try and find something I remember I liked, but mostly for me the process of writing the idea down means I absorb the idea, tuck it in my brain and then when it’s appropriate- I think – oh yes there was a brilliant idea on ‘xx’ podcast. I try and find the notebook and the idea and then decide whether it’s right for me.
    I almost think if it’s right for me I’ll remember it…maybe…or at least remember the essence and then go and listen to the podcast again or read my notes. A bit like story ideas, if they are good, they’ll stick and come back when I’ve time to spend on them.

    1. I probably don’t write down as much as I should, but I agree–written down or not–if I remember the idea/concept then it means it might well be something I should explore more. And, like you, that’s when I go looking for where I heard it so I can refresh on it.
      That probably means I need to write down more to help when I do go looking for things again. Thankfully, usually between my husband and I we can usually work our way back to where the idea came from.

  3. I fall into the too many options to store them, so many notes category. They are everywhere!
    But after YEARS of studying at uni, if I do NOT write it by hand, it will just fade right out of my adhd brain. I hand write notes for non-fic books I read, especially library books that I won’t have easy access to again. Being able to search notes in Kindle books I own is awesome.
    I load quotes/links into google Keep and set recurring reminders. Inspiration like the temple of art trailers on youtube. They are so good♥
    But funnily enough, if I am listening to a podcast, I type things up in 4thewords – they are cloud stored and downloadable to Word, and thus searchable.
    J was right when he commented recently that people do NOT finish on line courses. I swore I was going to be more organised with them. Keep a folder of who/where/topic/downloaded pdfs etc. Sooo problematic – which bloody email address did I even sign in with?! I swear I shall hand write notes for those, too. [one day…]
    And I have index cards for ideas, lines, quotes – they all get chucked into a shiny box – with a reminder to read through them all once a week or so.
    I agree that ‘sticky’ ideas are the ones that just keep coming back in some iteration.

    1. Love how you use Google Keep and 4thewords to create searchable items. I’m going to check those out more to see if I should intergrate into my process.
      And I agree, the note taking/highlighting in the Kindle app is so good.

      1. 4thewords gamifies writing. You ‘battle’ monsters by time or word count, there are quests to complete, wardrobe options for your character, and events – it’s Pride month at the moment so rainbows are everywhere. So much incentive to just keep going. Battles range from minutes to days.
        And it offers rewards for streak length. I do my ‘morning pages’ on there and show up every day to get that tick.
        I use a chromebook so Keep works super well with it. its colour coded, tagged, and saves across multiple devices.
        I have lists headed ‘I am at the library/hardware/craft store wtf did I want?’

  4. What actually helps me is to be able to talk about the info after a session. Afterward, I want to be able to dissect the ideas, hear someone else’s experience and opinion, and then think about that as well.

    I used to take copious notes during presentations. I moved from hand-written to cloud so I could search my notes… but in reality I hardly ever looked at them again. Not for content anyway. I might go back and look up a name or web address, but that’s it.

    When I focus on taking notes during a presentation, there are too many opportunities for other distractions from the laptop or my own brain. I find I’m drifting from the presentation right in front of me, and I don’t like doing that.

    For me, I want to listen closely, then talk about it afterward. I find that when I either paraphrase a session for someone who couldn’t attend, or just go through the material with someone else, I do a much better job of absorbing it. Like most conferences, for me the best part of the show is the conversations afterward.

    If the conference doesn’t offer their presentations on youtube/etc, I also may audio record the presentation with my phone so I can listen again later.

    1. Totally agree, James. It’s what I love about in person events, the immediate talking about a session afterward. Luckily even with some of the virtual events I’ve been to this spring, such as Career Author Summit, I attended along with my husband. So even though it was just the two of us, we could at least talk immediately amongst ourselves between sessions and it for sure helped things stick in my brain.

      I’m the same with writing things down too. Writing and maintaining a good active listen is something I’ve gotten worse at as I get older. I need to pay attention.

      1. I just love that you attended together, Jeff, and watched on the TV. I’m happy enough that Lala doesn’t write, and is a visual artist instead, but that must be a fun thing to share. Thanks again for being on the show!! You were great.

  5. I let it bounce around in the back of my head waiting to see what sticks enough to consider experimenting with it. I guess I should come up with an actual system for this one.

  6. Great question, Jeff! I’m a “collect and neglect” person by nature, and it drives me crazy.

    Two things work really well for me. First, I started a blog for medial speech-language pathologists two years ago, and I post a new article every other week. This allows me to teach something I’ve learned to my readers. By making it useful to them, I make it useful to myself in my own practice.

    Second, I keep separate Leuchtturm notebooks for Writing Craft & Business and SLP-stuff. I either write down the useful information or I write down where to find it. Each page is its own category, like “Keyword Research”, “Accounting/Bookkeeping tools & advice”, “Book covers”, or “Scrivener Tutorial Notes”. Two of my favorites are “Online training” and “Tools” – simply lists of courses, blogs, podcasts, products, etc. There are index pages in the front, so I can easily find the page.

    As an example, I just started the page on Accounting & Bookkeeping, and here’s what I have so far:
    1. Joanna Penn uses
    2. J Thorne doesn’t use Zello. For PayPal, make sure to choose a business account [Career Author Podcast]
    3. – free stress test for business, offers free weekly calls to authors [Wish I’d known then…For Writers podcast]

    (I’m writing my first novel, and just now creating things to sell to my SLP readers. I’m not even sure what the difference is between accounting and bookkeeping…)

    1. Those are some very handy and interesting methods. I really like how the blog post serves two purposes, it makes it more sticky for you in your head but your offering guidance to others too.

  7. Love reading all these – am one of the Chairs for our ECWC (Emerald City Writers Conference) this year and we are moving to a virtual format for 2020 which sort of breaks everyone’s heart since the talking with other writers piece is often the best part! I’m taking notes about how you all take notes :). If anyone has virtual conference wisdom would also love to hear that. Thank you for all you do –

  8. Hello! I’m playing catch up but had to chime in on this one. I am a notebook hoarder… I mean collector. I had a notebook designated for library events and one for online videos. I’ll highlight or mark certain things later with sticky notes for easy reference. For non-fiction books, I will highlight and annotate all over the place. I’m currently reading Sacha Black’s “13 Steps to Evil” and it’s almost all teal in the first 4 chapters because there’s so much good stuff!

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