Over the last 7 days leading up to the London Screenwriters’ Festival at Regents College, I’ll be preparing a special (text-only, sadly) Lowdown looking at how you can get the most from your weekend and the biggest bang for your buck.

You can read earlier tips in the countdown: Day 1Day 2 | Day 3.

Day 4: Take Note(s)

I’m going to make a wild assumption that people going along to the London Screenwriters’ Festival are going to be, well, writers. Which means that we’re all interested in using the written – and then spoken – word to express ourselves.

Note-taking, however, is very, very far away from what we do day-to-day. It’s not about meticulously crafted sentences and structures – it’s about remembering what we feel we most want/need to remember.

The biggest difficulty with note-taking is that it’s very much like revision at school: everyone has their own system that works for them. I can’t, therefore, tell you how to take the best notes for you, but I can tell you what works for me and what other people often find useful with notes.

Here are 6 key points to consider:

  1. Don’t attempt to transcribe the session – that way madness lies. Your hand (or your fingers if you’re being posh and taking a laptop in) can’t keep up with the speed at which we all speak. So unless you’re a stenographer or journalist trained in short-hand, you’re not going to be able to write down everything that’s said.
  2. Take down the key headings – from the powerpoint, if there is one, or as they emerge from the mouth of the speaker. Most speakers use topic headings on slides or note cards to jog their memory of what they’re trying to cover; the same principal can work for you.
  3. Consider your own personal shorthand – my dad used to take notes in meetings using his own form of shorthand that eliminates vowels. That was in the 70’s and is now more commonly known as “text-speak” (or txt-spk, I suppose). The point is, it worked for him, you may find something that works for you.
  4. Don’t let your note-taking distract from the business of the session – You don’t want to miss key points because you were furiously scribbling what was said immediately beforehand. Keep your notes as brief as you feel you can make them.
  5. Allow time to typing up – brief notes are all well and good, but you’ll need to allow yourself time to write them up at some point. This is how I make my notes, by making brief points on my notepad, then after the session going over them and typing them up. I find it helps me remember things better.
  6. Or, you could skip notes altogether in the session – allowing you to focus completely on the speaker(s), then write down the key points you remember immediately afterwards. This doesn’t work for me, because I get distracted by consciously “trying” to remember the key points I don’t want to forget and miss other elements of the presentation, but I know plenty of people for whom it works perfectly.

If this all feels slightly too scholastic for you, by all means avoid taking notes completely. If you think you’ll take away what you need to know without writing it all down then that’s the best way to do it – as I said above notes are entirely personal.

The last things I’ll say on notes, though, is that you should see them as a career investment; you’re paying close to £300 for this weekend’s experiences, so however much of a chore taking and typing up notes may appear, it’s always worth considering what you would pay someone for notes like those with the insights you’re going to get from the weekend.

For me, I’d certainly pay more than £300 for the wealth of knowledge I’m likely to accumulate over the course of the LSWF.

Come back tomorrow, Day 5, with just 3 days to go before the festival starts, when we’ll be looking at Networking – that dreaded “meeting new people” thing.

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    Nope, we got nada!