Michaeline: Aunt Cis’s Easy Trick for Taking Book Notes

Books with white book covers, a picture of woman photographer on a ladder in the background.

A very simple method for remembering what’s in a book.

One of the very, very nice things about writing fiction is that you get to make stuff up. Need a building on the corner of Main and Fifth? Make one up. The tsar of Russia needs a love child to make your story work? Presto, give birth right from your forehead. Need a breathable atmosphere where the lifeforms are methane-based? BOOM! Congratulations, you have created a whole world, or maybe even an entire universe.

The problem comes in when you want to anchor things in reality, and decide that plain, Jane Earth rules would make a good basis for the rules of the world you are building. Unless you have an eidetic memory, you’ve got to take notes – and you’ve got to be able to find them.

The internet has made our jobs as writers and fact-checkers much easier, and there are dozens of systems out there for organizing your notes in the digital realm. However, some things are just not on the internet. Some things are still only contained in real books. And let’s face it, when you search something on the internet, how often do your read the ENTIRE thing? There can be some hidden gems in the entire thing, but if the searched page gives up the fact we thought we wanted easily, there’s less incentive to poke around in the rest of the book – especially if it’s one of those books that have random pages that aren’t digitized.

For me, it’s really easy to get caught up in a book, not just read the index and go straight to the point. And this can be a good thing when I find something I didn’t even realize I was looking for.

But without a highlight or memo function on treeware, how does one keep track of the gems? Traditional notes are one answer – keep ‘em in a notebook, or put ‘em straight into the computer.

Or, there’s my aunt’s answer, which is simple and elegant. Put a plain paper cover on the book, and then take notes (or even better notes and an outline). Then, when you are done with the book, you can either just file the cover, or type it into the computer to make it searchable.

Maybe I’m too easily astounded, but this simple trick really blew my mind with the possibilities. No more digging up my notebook from where ever I left it, or firing up the computer. The act of writing down my notes puts the facts deeper into my head, and it’s super-easy to review what I found in the book.

How about you? Have you found any stupidly simple tricks that make a huge difference in your writing life?

4 thoughts on “Michaeline: Aunt Cis’s Easy Trick for Taking Book Notes

  1. Stupidly simple tricks that are making a big difference for me: first and foremost, while I’m supposed to be writing, my laptop is reserved for Word. If I want to check my email or google something, I have to stop and use my ipad. Secondly, use the timer on my phone. Write for an hour. Break for fifteen minutes – use that fifteen minutes to check my email or google stuff. Rinse and repeat. It’s amazing how many routine tasks I’ve been able to squeeze into those fifteen minute breaks.

    • This really is a simple trick that I think would work for me . . . . I have a USB modem, and maybe I should put it in the other room (or have my husband put it in the safe! LOL!) on the days when I’ve got good, long writing blocks. Thanks!

  2. I love the idea about writing notes on paper book jackets! How clever is that.

    Also, I’ve been wanting to make more productive use of my time, and lately I’ve been trying schedules (not to-do lists), even when most of my days have the same structure. This week, like Jilly, I’ve been working for an hour and then doing something else for 15 minutes, which is also productive, but not sitting at my computer (like washing the dishes, or putting 15 minutes into the garden). Yesterday I got so much done, I shocked myself. Now I’m wondering if that was a one-time wonder, or if I’ll be able to keep it up. We’ll see!

    • I adore the 45-minute work, 15 minute play model, and it’s working right now in other areas of my life (like cleaning for New Year’s). I have used it in the past for writing, as well — especially for write-ins with friends. I think those 15-minute breaks are so important for long-term health, too. It’s important to get your eyes focused on something else, stretch your legs and arms, and move your body.

      (LOL, and when I say “you” I mean “me.” I really need to take this to heart.)

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