Notetaking, life writing – and Virginia Woolf

Updates: having just discovered biographer extraordinaire Richard Holmes, suddenly material is everywhere: Stanley Spencer, Flaubert…and here’s a piece on the commonplace bookDear diaryMapped: all Virginia Woolf’s novels & Virginia Woolf’s LondonLife writing projects, experiments with new forms of life writing grouped under headings (clothes, body, books and place)…why take notes? The Guardian view on knowledge in an information age. What type of note taker are you?…another take on life writing: Lyndall Gordon’s Outsiders

#corpusmooc and #flfiction14 gave different perspectives on writing and notebooks.

Key points from #corpusmooc (full post archived):

  • aka “update your journal”, reflective practice
  • tools used: handwritten notes (absorb more and retain it, cf Walter Benjamin – as long as you can read your writing), Wikipad, Evernote, mindmapping, Docear (‘academic literature suite’ offering PDF highlighting, a reference manager and mindmapping); me: endless bulleted lists and
  • categories: ‘Stuff I really need in my head and not on paper”, “Stuff I can come back to or refer to’, ‘Stuff I’m unlikely to understand’

An infographic on notetaking techniques offers some insights into the recording and retaining of information:

  • only 10% of a talk may last in your memory, but if you take and review notes you can recall about 80%
  • notetaking systems (who knew?) include the Cornell System with a cue column and notetaking and summaries areas, the outline system and the flow based system
  • writing vs typing – writing engages your brain while you form and connect letters helping you retain more – typing gives a greater quantity of notes

Here’s an article on student notetaking for recall and understanding.

Key points from #flfiction14:

  • there are no rules
  • looking through your notebook may give you ideas, reawaken your creativity (or act as procrastination?)
  • it’s a personal running commentary, a map, a collection

More from #flcuriosity (full post archived):

Effective note taking means identifying the information which is relevant without noting everything down. Using appropriate academic reading skills can save you time. When note taking, where possible put the information in your own words and, if you don’t, make sure that you have a system that makes this clear otherwise you could end up plagiarising.

Note taking tools:

  • blogging and mind mapping
  • annotating – highlighting, underlining, writing in the margin; summarise afterwards to avoid plagiarism
  • Docear – imports and organises PDFs with notes into a mind map
  • Read Cube, Scrivner and Zotero – all show PDFs in one half and a notebook on the other half to take notes while reading
  • a notebook – half-processed writing

My blogging is my notetaking for something or other, but are notebooks something we should be collecting and (digitally) curating, or are they only of interest to ‘scholars’? Is archiving, dissecting them a form of over-analysis? (Like archiving Twitter.)

Writers and their notebooks featured on R3’s Free Thinking back in May 2014, along with a gallery and commissioned piece A junkyard of the mind by Lawrence Norfolk (more by him on writing):

a notebook is an act of triage on the world outside…accumulates its value slowly, line by line and page by page…work passes through it on the way to becoming something else

Guest Bidisha wondered whether “less [sic] notebooks might have meant more novels” – she described her notebooks as low grade matter, the result of a psychological impetus and the precursor to a published (read: completed) work  rather than writing with a narrative form. But different from a diary, which is way too personal. Sometimes the notes can be as/more interesting than the finished article, or are they just everyday detritus?

BL bod Rachel Foss saw blogs as the new notebooks, but are digital notebooks just too easy – putting pen to paper is a much more conscious act. It’s like smartphone photography – since I got my iphone I’ve been snapping away with the rest of them. This is one thing which makes digital different, but is it affecting the way we think?

The British Library’s Discovering Literature site has put “huge swathes of writers’ and poets’ personal archives” from the Romantics and the Victorians online, but it’s not that easy to find a notebook per se.  They are also archiving writers’ website, to Bidisha’s chagrin.

From notetaking to life writing (vs place writing)…

The BBC has just run the light but lovely Life in squares (James Norton!) and I just finished Alexandra Harris’ Virginia Woolf (review). I left the ribbon bookmark by this quote (pp109,111), unfashionably in praise of the car:

She wanted to translate her money into life-enhancing thingsTo the lighthouse bought a car. Like the excellent lunch in A room of one’s own, the car encourages the expansiveness of mind that might result in good writing. We can feel the effects of the Woolfs’ Singer car (called The Lighthouse) in the pages of Orlando. Scenes flash by, the world opens up…the car made Virginia feel freer than ever before.”

Not much of a Bloomsbury-ite up to now, I have A room of one’s own and Flush; next stop may have to be essays, eg Street haunting (aka the pencil story; BL), Portrait of a LondonerXmas shopping on Oxford Street

Diving into the industry we have:

Back to life writing:

Literary heritage may traditionally speak of the preservation of authors’ manuscripts, belongings and houses, but it also must include interpretation, understanding and the relationship of the artefacts to the individual, the community and the culture as a whole. (source)

Three related conferences have just taken place:



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