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10 Tips For Taking Notes at a Writer’s Conference  

September 21, 2014

by Jennie Jarvis

Jarvis, JennieLet’s face it: in the 21st Century, everyone is doing their part to save the trees (and the planet) by going paperless. Mortgages can be paid online. Statements can be emailed. And writer’s conferences are cutting down on the number of handouts they provide to their attendees.

The Florida Writers Association is just one of the many organizations “going green.” This year, we’ve made several steps towards using less paper, and you are going to notice one of those changes at this year’s Annual Conference in October: a reduced number of handouts.

This year, instead of requiring our faculty to provide a handout to go along with their various workshops, we gave them a choice. You’ll notice that many of the workshops you attend won’t have a corresponding handout available because some of our Agents, Editors, Filmmakers, New York Times Bestsellers and other Feature Faculty made the decision to “go green” and not have a paper handout.

This means, you will need to do things a little differently to take notes that will serve you long after the conference has ended. Here are Ten Quick Tips to be the best note-taker possible:


  1. Sit in the front of the room.

Don’t worry. No one will think you are “brown-noser” because you sit up front. The front is the best place because you can hear the speaker better and see the slides from their PowerPoint presentation more clearly.

  1. Bring an extra pen or pencil.

You never know when you are going to run out of ink. Always have a minimum of 2-3 pens to take notes with and pull them all out before the session starts. This way, if your pen runs out of ink, you can grab the next one and go without missing a beat.

  1. Don’t try to write down everything.

If you try to write down everything, your hand will fall off by lunchtime on the first day. Write down only the most important points the writer brings up. If you feel like you need more information than you were able to write down, ask the presenter if you can get a copy of their PowerPoint slides emailed to you after the presentation is over.

  1. Bring paper with you specifically for taking notes

The best way to take notes is by using a spiral notebook dedicated to that specific conference. Don’t use the tiny, odd shaped notepads the hotel gives you. Those are easily lost. And don’t expect any conference to have enough paper for you to use. Again, people are “going green” so make sure you bring the supplies you need to succeed.

  1. Think Before You Write

Don’t just copy down what people say because they are saying it. Process the information a moment and ask if you really need that tidbit of knowledge. If yes, then write it down. If not, then keep listening and thinking.

  1. Don’t Be Afraid to Speak Up

If a speaker says something that stands out to you, don’t be afraid to say, “I’m sorry, but could you say that again?” Sometimes, they won’t remember what they just said, but many times they will. Having them repeat it will make it easier for you to write it down.

  1. Establish a Note-Taking Structure

If, as you listen to a speaker, you realize the workshop is being conducted off an outline, try to write your notes as an outline. Look for larger points and then smaller facts or details that support those larger points. Writing it out like a novel will make it impossible for you to keep up, so really analyze the structure of what’s being taught in order to copy down the structure on the page.

  1. Organize to Prioritize

Label each section of your notes using the name of the workshop. Use lines across the page to separate thoughts or use asterisks to highlight important points. If all your notes run together, it will make it harder to keep your thoughts straight later on. Remember, you aren’t taking notes for now. You are taking them for the future.

  1. Date and Notate

Always put a date on your notes so you will remember where you first heard the information. Also, go back through your notes and clarify any points or rewrite words that made have been sloppily written while you were taking notes. Think of these as “notes to your future self.”

10. Review Your Notes After the Session

As soon as the workshop ends and the break begins, take a moment before you run off to get your cookie and soda to review your notes. Did you write down everything you wanted to remember? Is there anything you missed? Your memory will never be as strong as it is the moment the session ends, so review your notes right away and make any additions needed.

We here at FWA are working hard to create the best writing conference we have ever had, and we can’t wait to share it with you. We know getting used to fewer handouts might require some adjustment, but in this age of laptops, netbooks, and iPads, our notes can be the best organized ever. Going green means leaving a legacy behind for future generations to enjoy our stories for centuries to come.

  1. Lyn Hill permalink
    September 21, 2014 9:19 am

    I did like the handouts so I could concentrate on the speaker and because many speakers have soft voices. I do understand the cost and going green. May I suggest writers put a label on each workshop asking themselves why they selected this workshop and aim their notes on material that fills that need?

  2. leanlulu permalink
    September 21, 2014 10:32 am

    Is it

  3. September 21, 2014 12:48 pm

    Hopefully the presenters have websites, providing the attendees an opportunity to gather information that they were not able to obtain at the time of the presnetation.

  4. September 21, 2014 9:26 pm

    Serously, If you want to go green , use recycled paper for the handouts. Considering the cost of attending the conference, it’s disappointing that many of the workshops won’t have handouts.

  5. Larry Kokko permalink
    September 22, 2014 6:43 pm

    Another possibility to consider is a digital (or tape for old-schooler’s) recorder to go along with note taking. (Always make sure to get the speaker’s permission though).

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