So, what do your notes look like?

I am always curious about how people think/interpret readings or what their reactions to a film are. What are your methods/strategies for reading a text? Do you take notes in the margins? Highlight? How many times do you read it? What do you look for? Do you have a special pen/pencil that you like to use? What about films? Where there certain ideas/images/scenes from yesterday's film that you were compelled to write about? What sorts of notes did you make about those important moments?

I have just created a new category for this blog: How we think.... I thought we could use it to post questions or reflections about the process of thinking, reading, engaging. Here is my first contribution: An excerpt from my very messy notes from yesterday's film.

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i write my notes in bullet points a lot. and i also find myself quoting quite often in my notes. either something brilliant a classmate or the instructor said or in this case, certain phrases and ways of explanation that butler said. i also have a notebook page on my computer, that i use to collect notes. so every once in a while i go through my notebook and transfer onto my computer notes i have taken about books to look into, people to research, or ideas to further explore. right now that larger list is called my "summer to do list" when i'll (hopefully) have more time to thoroughly explore all the notes ive taken this year.

when i read i use a pen and write in the margins. i have a very personalized system of symbols that i use to mark certain things. first, to make note of how the text is structured (thesis, supporting thoughts, lists of points) then others for important details, another marking for the main "take away point" and yet another for "i just really like the language they used to say this" and then yet another (lol) for "this speaks to me on a personal level"

i think in circles a lot, so taking notes with this semi-system helps me organize my thinking so that i can better communicate it to others. i also write in lists a lot (hence the bullet point notes) because again that makes it easier to communicate with others. without organizing my thoughts like this i think my thinking process would cause quite a bit of "trouble" for my friends, peers, and instructors. thinking for me feels most like when you scribble a pen to make the ink work again.

This past week as we were talking about what makes "good" writing, I found myself staring down at my notes, and noticed something: at least 90% of my notes are written in full sentences, and a lot of them are written in full paragraphs. Some of the terms that got thrown around for "good" writing were intelligible, clear, logical, follows a set of formal rules. . . and as I was looking at my notes I thought, "Wow, I really buy into those rules, don't I?" And I started thinking about style vs content. We spoke last week about authors who use style as a way of communicating their message; their refusal to follow "traditional" rules of writing is part of what they are telling their readers.

Somewhere along the line I seem to have developed the idea that a reader can only give a piece of writing so much attention (in one reading, anyway), and that if I'm spending more energy focusing on the style, that energy is taken from focus I might otherwise put on the content. Accordingly, any time I am writing something I hope will be really meaningful to the reader (so. . . everything except for Facebook updates, I suppose?), I try to keep my style as straightforward as possible. My reasoning has always been that my message has a greater chance of being understood the way I mean it through direct language than through a style which may be confusing to my reader, and I guess I have always assumed that I want my reader to know exactly what I mean.

Now, hold on, I'm not saying that I believe this completely, but this is how I've been thinking of things (largely unconsciously) for as long as I can remember, and only now am I seriously rethinking this. Is any of this valid? And if so, under which circumstances? If I write in a convoluted, unusual, or unexpected style, will this overshadow what I'm actually saying? If I wrote a post full of thoughts like this in the style of, say, e.e. cummings, what would people reading it think?

And voilà, like that, the whole thought process behind how I write has been troubled.

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