I spend a lot of time writing. I write for my existing clients, I write to attract new business, I write to learn new things, and I write, for myself, because I cannot seem to shake the habit no matter how hard I try.
I’m constantly trying out new processes, figuring out what works best for me in different situations. Recently, a client asked me about one part of my process, when I’m interviewing individuals or businesses to pull out lumps of information I’m going to need later.
I’m currently working on a long-form project with this client that has involved hours of chatting, recording interviews, and documenting notes. The client asked about why, during these conversations, I sometimes type notes, sometimes record and jot down bullet points, and sometimes furiously scribble in a notebook while barely making eye contact.
His observation was spot on- I frequently switch my methods depending on what I need from the conversation. I’ve discovered over the years that the pace and the format in which I allow myself to write affects the information I absorb, and ultimately, the product I come up with.
Pen and paper are for the complicated subjects, the question-filled conversations. When I’m speaking with someone, handwritten notes force me to slow down. I analyze and decide what is important. Reading over my handwritten comments later, I also find that I have retained more information than I do with typed notes.
Typing notes is for the detailed conversations, the ones that contain a lot of information but move so quickly it’s hard to decide in the moment what’s relevant. I can do some editing, some organizing, while I type, but I am mostly just absorbing information for later reflection.
Recording is, quite simply, used when I need quotes. Other than that, I prefer to trust what my gut says is important during the conversation itself.
And although I generally avoid white boards (I somewhat superficially avoid harbingers of start-up culture), I do love oversized pieces of paper for brainstorming conversations. It’s an obvious image, but thinking does tend to be less linear when there are no lines on the page.
In my own drafting process, when I actually start to write, I also use varied formats to lay out my thoughts (pen and paper for when I need to funnel down to one strand of thought, typed drafts when I need to vomit out large amounts of information). But I’ve found that different approaches are valuable in every step of the writing process, starting with the information-gathering stage.
This approach works for me, with my own idiosyncrasies and thinking speed and mental organization. Talking with other writers, I find it fascinating to hear about the methods they use, and why.
Have you ever thought about it? How do you best digest information? What helps you remember details? What medium matches your work, your speed, your process?