As I’ve mentioned before, I read a lot of books about writing and the craft of storytelling. Along with regular reading and writing, I think this is one of the keys to improving as an author.
I find I can usually take at least a few good things from any of these “how-to” guides, and I synthesize all of it into my own mish-mash of writing process. However, I’ve always done this very informally, mostly just reading, absorbing, and seeing what sticks.
Bettis suggests a much more rigorous form of study, and encourages us to take notes. Notes let us come back later and get the executive summary of what we read, but perhaps more importantly, they allow us to better retain all those juicy tidbits of advice.
As I’m reading a book or article or even listening to a YT lecture, I jot down key ideas in the left hand column, and then (this is the important part) in the bigger area I immediately apply each concept to a work in progress. If you zoom in on my notes, you might see items about a character named Wang and how I could develop an emotional core for Wang’s story.
I also make little boxes with published examples. In these notes, the published examples are from Moby Dick.
When I’ve filled up the note-taking area down to the bottom section, I stop and get out my yellow pen to highlight the main points of what I just studied. Then (this is another important part), without looking back at the notes so I’m not just copying, I summarize what I’ve learned in my own words at the bottom of the page.
She even includes an example page from her own notes, links to the note-taking method that she adapted, and an article explaining why note-taking can provoke deeper learning.
2 thoughts on “Reblog: How to Study the Craft of Writing — Priscilla Bettis”
Hey, thanks for the reblog, Samuel! When I look back over the past couple of years, I can tell that my studying is paying off. I go into my stories (writing, I mean) with more confidence and a better feel s to where the plot needs to go.
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I recently picked up Damn Fine Story by Chuck Wendig, and I’m going to test your note-taking strategy on it. I’ll let you know how it goes.
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