Getting Practical: 3 Ways Writers Can Use Sketchnotes

Based on comments from y’all–not to mention which posts get the most traffic on this blog–I’ve made a cool discovery: Although you seem to appreciate posts on theory, what you REALLY like are posts that dig into specific examples.


 Photos: Jaro LarnosSheltie Boy, State Library of South Aus, & Woodleywonderworks

Practice a Concept–OWN the Concept

Makes sense to me! I don’t really understand a concept until I try it out six ways from Sunday and make it my own, if you know what I mean :).

So I thought I’d try an experiment. On Mondays, I’ll continue to bring you information and tips about writing, creativity, and novel ways to connect with readers. Thursdays, we’ll dive into specifics–specific examples, specific applications, specific challenges, and so on, that have to do with the week’s topic. Starting with (drumroll, please…) sketchnoting!

Sketchnoting is a powerful tool for writers & other creatives–I dare you to give it a try!


Add Sketchnotes to Your Creative Process: 3 Ideas

Idea 1: Use sketchnotes to create a “mind map” of conference sessions, lectures, or other presentations.

How? Simply apply basic sketchnoting principles as described by sketchnoting authority Mike Rohde in the Sketchnote Handbook: The Illustrated Guide to Visual Note Taking.

Who should try this? Creating this type of sketchnote could be a good fit for you if:

  • You want to start training your brain to think visually and symbolically
  • You want to practice the sketchnoting process without simultaneously trying to generate content
  • You want to share conference or meeting notes with others
  • You want to create a visual reminder of conference, meeting, or other information that you can refer to later

Example: I created this sketchnote…


…to help remind me of the great concepts in Simon Sinek’s inspirational talk “How Great Leaders Inspire Action.” The result is a one-page source of inspiration that I’ll add to my writing binder. It captures the core ideas in a way that will jog my memory when I need to recharge.

Idea 2: Use sketchnotes to create a visual representation of an EXISTING character or character arc.

IMO, it’s easier to organize existing information in a visual format than it is to generate new ideas during the sketchnoting process. That means you’ll probably have an easier time creating a well-organized sketchnote if you  have a clear idea of who your character is before you start.

However, the very process of sketchnoting activates different brain regions than writing text, so it’s likely that this exercise will generate new ideas along the way. If so, run with them! The purpose of sketchnoting isn’t to create beautiful art (see my examples!) but to create a visual representation of thoughts and ideas. Let your creativity come out and play–get messy–and make the process work for you!

Who should try this? You might want to try this exercise if:
  • You want to see the “big picture” for a specific character (or setting, or whatever else you decide to use in this exercise)
  • You have a reasonably clear idea of who your character is–for example, her personality, flaws, strengths and weaknesses, etc.
  • You want to create a one-stop reference to help remind yourself of important character details–such as who he knows, his mannerisms, his physical appearance, information he’s uncovered at various points in the story, etc.
Example: I created this character sketch for one of the secondary characters in my current work-in-progress (WIP)–as a result, condensing 10+ pages of freewriting and notes into a single reference page.

Idea 3: Blend sketchnoting concepts with mind mapping to brainstorm a NEW character, character arc, scene, or an entire plot.

Who should try this? This could be a good fit for you if:
  • You feel comfortable translating words and ideas into simple symbols
  • You trust yourself not to fixate on creating beautiful art at the expense of generating ideas
  • You’re familiar with mind mapping
  • Or you like trying lots of new things at once–bring on sketchnotes, mind mapping, and more!
Example: I wanted to explore the idea that the villain in my WIP is the hero in his own story. What would that look like? How would the traits that make him a villain, from my main character’s point of view, make him a hero from his own? Here’s the result…
Your turn: Do you have some story notes that you want to organize? Or maybe it’s time you finally got around to that online class you’ve been meaning to take…a perfect opportunity to practice your sketchnoting skills! Try out sketchnoting–and be sure to share the results in the comments, below!

Finding the “Why” in What You Do


Photo from BK, Flickr Creative Commons

You may have noticed that things have been a little quiet here on the blog lately. Don’t worry–I promise not to bore you with some “sorry-I-haven’t-been-posting-but-let-me-tell-you-all-the-reasons-why” post. Suffice it to say that I ran smack into one of those crisis moments that narrows your view to the basics: family, friends, and whatever immediate demands the next moment brings.

I like to live in quiet denial that bad stuff happens. In my little fantasy world, my parents never age, my kids are never hurt, all dogs live forever, and natural disasters always keep a respectful distance.

It’s not that I really think any of this…it’s more that if I think too hard about loss and grief, I can work myself into an agony of worry over things that haven’t yet occurred. I find it helpful to give just enough attention to the possibility of pain that it helps me to appreciate what I have. Does that make sense? Acknowledge that life isn’t actually all lollipops and roses, because that can help you savor the good moments; but don’t live in terror of the day you’re going to lose something or–worse–someone important.

Not that I’m a fan of crises, but sometimes they bring a gift.

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The Joys of Collaboration


A few weeks back, I told you about how working  with my brother-in-law and husband for two weeks of intense creative collaboration, putting together the framework for a transmedia storytelling project.

It was, in short, an awesome experience. Imagine working with a small group of people who are all excited about the same project, but all come into it with different professional backgrounds, different skillsets, and different ways of thinking. We’ve probably all heard about this sort of energized working environment, but usually in the context of startup companies.

Can writers create this type of idea-sparking meeting of the minds?

Apparently, yes. We can. Because those two weeks–although exhausting and demanding–were two of the best weeks of my life. They make me yearn to work with this sort of team on a more regular basis!

The only other place I’ve seen this sort of creative synergy is within my critique group, but never during the actual critique process. Instead, it seems to sneak in when two or three or four members start to brainstorm about how a story might play out differently, or what tidbit of backstory could bump a character’s motivation from blah to powerful.

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On Working With a Writing Coach

Have you ever felt stuck in your writing career?

Like you’re doing the right things and still getting nowhere? Writing, blogging, going to conferences, submitting manuscripts, building an online platform…After a while, it’s easy to start feeling like a dog chasing its own tail! You spin round and round…

Taro the Shiba Inu1
…getting absolutely nowhere.

Looking Back

Kendra_headshot2013That’s where I was about two and a half years ago, when I started working with writing coach Kendra Levin.

Recently, I…graduated? Or whatever it’s called when your coach/mentor becomes a friend/fellow creative traveler. And since I began my coaching season by blogging about the experience, sharing some of my insights along the way, and interviewing writing/life coaches, it seems fitting to share the wrap-up as well.

The Beginning

I started working with Kendra because I was having a tough time finding balance between the demands of my personal life and my passion to create. I was having trouble holding onto creativity in the face of the unavoidable rejections writers face.

I was trying very, very hard to do things RIGHT (whatever that means) that I had no idea what I actually needed or wanted.
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