3 Reasons Sketchnotes Can Level Up Your Creative Process

tsh-cover-175pxDo you ever finish a brainstorming session feeling like you’ve just rehashed the same old ideas on new sheets of paper?

Does your freewriting exercise stall before you hit the second paragraph?

Does your plot refuse to twist, or do your characters insist on behaving predictably?

Maybe you need a creative kick-start! I have an awesome–and fun–new tool for you to add to your creativity toolbox:

SKETCHNOTES 

 

What the Heck Are Sketchnotes?

Sketchnoting authority Mike Rohde, author of the Sketchnote Handbook: The Illustrated Guide to Visual Note Taking, puts it this way:

Sketchnotes are rich visual notes created from a mix of handwriting, drawings, hand-drawn typography, shapes, and visual elements like arrows, boxes & lines.”

Sketchnotes arose from Mike’s frustration with the standard note-taking process. He was filling notebooks with pages of detailed, text-only notes, and then never referring to them again.

Sound familiar? How many of us have notebooks full of notes from conferences and meetings, notebooks that now gather dust on shelves (**raises hand**)? Perhaps worse, how many of us have notebooks filled with valuable story ideas or character descriptions, similarly gathering dust because sorting through them is too daunting a task?

Sketchnotes focus on capturing BIG IDEAS and representing them VISUALLY. By using symbols and shapes to capture concepts, sketchnotes can convey information more succinctly than text alone. The way information is organized on the page can help communicate a hierarchy of ideas or logical progression.

The end result is a “visual map,” Mike says. Sketchnotes “are built from meaningful thoughts and ideas your mind collects and squirrels away….”

In other words, when you translate ideas into sketchnotes, you store them in a format that’s easy to review and access later.

Sketchnotes let you translate ideas into a format that’s QUICK TO SCAN and EASY TO REVISIT. 

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Cool, right? But that’s not the only benefit of sketchnoting–as you might’ve guessed based on the the title of this post.

Sketchnoting Is About PROCESS as Much as PRODUCT

Sketchnoting isn’t just about creating a beautiful end product–which is why you don’t need to be an artist to start creating your own sketchnotes. Sketchnoting helps you think differently.

Sketchnoting Involves the Visual Areas of the Brain 

The process of creating a sketchnote actually uses different parts of the brain than simply writing text–it fires up both your visual and your verbal brain regions. This can help you see new relationships between ideas and make connections you might not make otherwise.

Making new connections is crucial for creativity.

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Sketchnoting Requires Handwriting

Sketchnoting requires handwriting, and handwriting has been shown to help thinking and processing more than simply tapping on a keyboard. According to Virginia Berninger, in her 2010 interview with the Wall Street Journalthat may be because handwriting “activates a much larger portion of the brain’s thinking, language, and “working memory” regions than typing”.

Handwriting also seems to enhance your memory for what you’re writing–which is valuable whether you’re taking notes at a conference or taking notes for your novel’s climax!

Sketchnoting Invokes a Playful Attitude

Sketchnoting, which involves doodling different shapes and colors on the page, naturally invokes a playful attitude. Plenty of research suggests that play is essential to the creative process. Play helps silence your inner critic, freeing your mind to be silly and spontaneous. (Check out this great overview of the link between play and creativity if you want to learn more!)

This isn’t a how-to post, because I figured you’d want to know “why bother” before you’d care about the “how-to.” If you want to know more about how to get started with sketchnoting, please check out Mike Rohde’s fantastic and inspirational book,  the Sketchnote Handbook: The Illustrated Guide to Visual Note Taking

 

Ways Writers Can Collaborate – and Kick-Start the Creative Process!

Earlier this week, I shared some of the joys of collaborating with other creative types…but I think I missed something. It’s all well and good to talk about why collaboration is great for the creative process, but if you’re a writer–probably working solo from your home office–what does collaboration actually look like?

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Hans Splinter, Flickr

The Many Faces of Collaboration

I’m not expert on the collaboration front. I haven’t co-authored a book with anyone, for instance–the stereotypical form of writerly collaboration. However, I’ve found that kicking around ideas with other readers, writers, and daydreamers is a great way to improve my fiction writing.

It got me thinking: Where have I benefited from working with others on a project? What opportunities for collaboration have I stumbled upon, and what collaborative possibilities have other writers harnessed that I haven’t yet tried?

Here’s what I came up with, listed from least (“Level 1″) to most interactive (“Level 4″). Feel free to suggest more possibilities and examples in the comments!

Level 1: Soliciting Feedback

This is a great starting point for the novice collaborator: sign up for a conference critique, find a writing mentor, or join a critique group to solicit others’ views on your plot, story world, characters, etc. This is a great way to experiment with what it feels like to work with others on a creative project.

Some things to keep in mind:

  • When giving or receiving feedback, be sure to bring an open, non-judgmental mindset to the process
  • But also remember–you’re the owner of your project, so don’t let others squash your vision

These days, though, critiques from other writers aren’t the only form of feedback you can seek. You can also connect with “regular” readers. Share your writing on platforms such as WattpadFictionPress.net, or even your own blog or website–not for a critique, but to get a sense of what is and isn’t working in your stories.

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Why NaNoWriMo?

What Insane Person Tries to Write 50K Words in 30 Days?

One who wants to improve their ability to create!

This quick video explains why NaNoWriMo is worth doing and what you’ll gain from the experience.

This is for you if

  • You’ve never heard of NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) and want to know more
  • Your friend / classmate / significant other is participating in NaNoWriMo and you think they’re crazy
  • YOU are participating in NaNoWriMo…and you’re wondering if YOU are crazy
  • You know you thought this book-in-a-month thing was a good idea, but you can’t seem to remember why
  • You just need a good excuse to procrastinate because you don’t want to write :)

If you enjoy, please share!

This is also available as a Prezi (below) if you prefer to go through it without the narration.

Five Sure-Fire Ways to Beat the NaNoWriMo Blues

Only 1667 words

Participant-2014-Web-BannerYou’ve outlined — plus created character sketches, researched settings and historical context, and honed the details of your magic system.

Your freezer is filled with prepared foods — buying you more time at the page, time in which to pen (or type) those words every day, come what may.

You’re determined — just 1667 words a day and by November 30, you’ll have a NOVEL, 50,000 words strong.

Your plans are beautiful…except for one, small problem.

It’s now day 3 (or 5, or 17 — insert your day # here), and your plans aren’t going quite as anticipated.

Perhaps you’ve been at your computer for an hour already today. Maybe more. You’ve cranked out a measly, what — 500? 200? 150? — words. You’re never going to meet your day’s word count goal at this rate!

Worse, as panic sets in, that pathetic trickle of words threatens to dry up completely. Your stress is mounting, and stress is not a friend of flow.

Before you sink into despair — before you give up this crazy affair known as NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month, for the uninitiated) — take heart, take a deep breath, and take a look at the tips that follow.

You might have forgotten to prepare your most important #NaNoWriMo asset: your mindset.

Prepare Your NaNoWriMo Mindset

It’s easy to overlook this most important tool for  NaNoWriMo success: a winning mindset. Don’t worry. I’m not going to tell you to give yourself a Rah-Rah, Go Team! pep talk. I’m not even going to tell you to think positive and banish those pessimistic “I can’t” thoughts from your vocabulary.

I WILL tell you to check out your mindset: do you have any of the following unwanted assumptions tagging along?

These assumptions are common and easy to make. They’re easy to miss, if you aren’t looking for them. And, unchecked, they can seriously damage your ability to benefit from (and yes, meet your word count goals during) NaNoWriMo.

Are any of them directing your writing this November? If so, it’s time to kick ‘em to the curb. You’ve got writing to do!

Assumption #1. I need to get the language perfect!

The pursuit of perfection — whether you’re trying to attain perfect language, perfect flow, perfect description, or something else — never fails to sabotage first draft writing efforts.

Truth is, you probably know about this stumbling block. You probably tell yourself not to strive for perfection yet, because you’re only writing a draft, and it’s okay for there to be mistakes or for the wording to be a little rough. You tell yourself these things. But do you listen? Or do you find yourself backtracking during the writing process, looking over previous paragraphs and letting your brain start pointing out flaws and edits that you need to make?

Watch out for that drive to be perfect! At best, it will slow down your NaNoWriMo writing productivity; at worst, it will slam your writing to a screeching halt.

Assumption #2. I need to write the story in order.

Most of us don’t necessarily feel the driving need to write a story in the same order in which events unfold but, until someone points out that there are other possibilities, most of us don’t consider that there are alternatives. I’m here to tell you that if you’re stuck on a scene, it’s perfectly okay to jump to a scene that occurs later in the story.

In fact, jumping to another scene often leads a writer to focus on writing the pivotal and climactic scenes first. Those are often the scenes that are clearest in the imagination. Writing them is often easier, even fun!

On top of that, writing any scene tends to reveal information about things like your plot, story world, and character motivations. The process of writing those compelling, “easier” scenes first often leaves you with a writing to-do list to inspire your next writing session.

Assumption #3. I have to finish this scene/chapter/whatever before moving on.

This is a variation on assumption #2. There can be many reasons for stalled writing. Read through the following list and — this is important — choose your best answer quickly, without taking in a lot of time to “logic” your way through them:

  1. Your brain is tired; you could probably take a break and come back to writing and it would go fine.
  2. The scene is a good idea; you’re just having a hard time finding your way through it.
  3. You don’t know enough (about the character’s motivation, the setting, etc.) to write the scene; you need to do more research.
  4. You have a feeling that this scene is going in the wrong direction, which is making it hard to write.
  5. The scene isn’t inspiring you and you’re not sure it ever will; deep down, you feel like there’s something irreparably wrong with it.

Sometimes, when you feel stuck, you just need to power through it. (My DH calls this the “beating your head against the wall” approach.)

However, that stuck feeling may be sending you information about some obstacle to writing flow. Identify the obstacle and you’ll solve your problem far more quickly than if you just try harder.

Assumption #4. I have to stick to my outline.

This one’s only relevant if you’re an outliner, not a seat-of-the-pants writer. It’s also an assumption I can speak to personally, since I tend to outline my stories in detail…and then resist getting off the outline’s planned track with all my might.

But if your muse is calling you to turn left when the outline says go right, then by all means check out that left-hand turn! You can always return to your outline if you don’t like where it takes you. Meanwhile, following your gut instinct (or intuition, or muse, or whatever you want to call it) is the best way to make unexpected creative connections.

Similarly, if following your outline makes you feel like you’re slogging through hip-deep mud, that can be a sign that you’re not heading in the right direction. Try asking “what if…?” questions.

  • What if your character cooperated with his abductor instead of fighting?
  • What if your antagonist felt unexpected sympathy for her victim?
  • What if that important message didn’t reach its destination?

What if your carefully planned story goes in the complete opposite direction of what you planned? You might be pleasantly surprised with the results.

Assumption #5. I shouldn’t write this scene, because I’m not sure it has a place in my final manuscript.

Don’t be afraid to write scenes, character descriptions, settings, and dialogues that probably won’t appear in the final story. Even if these are “only” backstory, if you feel drawn to write something — write it. In the long run, these writing side trips will help you create a richer story with greater depth.

Besides, you never know what will make its way into your final manuscript! Those scenes may end up appearing as memories, flashbacks, or daydreams that build character and provide additional story layers.

If you’re writing a story from a single point of view, you may be making this assumption unconsciously. Be open to the possibility of testing out key scenes with a different point-of-view narrator. Sometimes a different narrator can give your reader different insights into a story’s events. This technique can also be used to add narrative tension, provide critical backstory, or withhold information from your reader.

This isn’t a post on writing craft; if it were, I wouldn’t advise you to randomly change narrators during your story. However, during the first draft stage — which is what you’re writing during NaNoWriMo — experimenting with different narrative voices can be a powerful technique to help move your story forward.

Join the discussion: What hidden assumptions can sabotage YOUR first draft writing attempts?

P.S. For those of you working on NaNoWriMo this year, friend me! Username Cherylreif