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Worlds of Design: Write it Down!

Hector Berlioz, the 19th century French composer, said “every composer knows the anguish and despair occasioned by forgetting ideas which one had no time to write down.” Just as Abraham Lincoln thought “No man has a good enough memory to be a successful liar,” no one has a good enough memory to remember all of their game ideas.

writeitdown.jpg

Picture courtesy of Pixabay.

Record Your Ideas​

Always carry a notebook. And I mean always. The short-term memory only retains information for three minutes; unless it is committed to paper you can lose an idea for ever.” Will Self
One of the first things I told game development students in my classes was, “record your ideas.” The only safe way to keep track of your ideas is to write them down/record them immediately and get in the habit of doing it consistently. Everyone nowadays, not just seniors, has CRS (Can’t Remember S--t). If you have a lot of ideas, a lot of things you want to keep track of, you're not going to remember them all. (People with near-perfect memories are as legendarily rare as people who can actually multi-task without degradation of efficiency, though many fool themselves about both.)

I’m using “write down” generically to mean write on paper, type into a computer, speak into a voice recorder, or in some other way make a record, preferably a record that can be (and is) backed up regularly. I even use voice recognition to write notes, at times. While this advice is especially important for game designers, GM’s who make up their own adventures are effectively game designers. Though if you simply follow what’s written in a commercial module then this doesn’t apply.

Writing things down is good not only because you have a memory substitute, but because it can help you creatively. When you later look at what you’ve written you can see relationships you might not conceive in your mind, because you see it written down. You can see undesirable repetition, inconsistencies, or contradictions. You can associate things you otherwise wouldn't associate. Educators have known for a long time, when students write things down they learn better.

I don’t mean carefully crafted descriptions, I mean notes, sentences, phrases, occasionally a little more than that. Write it down in whatever level of detail will help you remember, and you'll probably benefit sometime. Six months, a year, two years later you might occasionally not even know what you meant by what you wrote, but that's alright as long as most of the time you can figure out what you meant.

Sometimes more extensive notes can help. A couple years ago I read the notes for a game I’d more or less abandoned four years earlier. This got me going again, and it’s turned out to be a popular and unique (but not yet published) game. Without those notes, it would never have happened.

Back It Up​

If you don't have a computer available, you still have many choices. For example, I have a PDA, kind of old-fashioned, but I have it mainly because it's a good voice recorder for short notes and I can use it one-handed without looking at it while I'm driving. I also have a voice recorder (and a phone) to record something more elaborate. I used to carry a paper notebook but that’s harder to back up, although you can take a digital photograph of the page in your notebook.

You'll probably want to use software made for note taking and associating notes. I use Info Select, an old-fashioned and expensive program that works well. Evernote or Microsoft OneNote can be used, or the very simple Memento; all three are free downloads. Worse comes to worst, use a word processor.

You might not like this idea of recording everything, but think about it. If you're making a commercial tabletop role-playing game or adventure you have to write it all down on computer sooner or later. Your notes provide the basis for the formal version.

Not Just for Game Designers​

As a player, if you want to keep track of what’s happening in your adventure, you should be writing it down. I used to write extensive notes about games I played, a narrative more or less, which is still entertaining (for me) to read as much as 37 years later. I wasn’t writing to read it decade(s) later, I wrote it to help me remember things that might be important in or to future adventures. Some people go so far as to turn their notes into fan fiction or other short stories.

Whenever you get an idea, write it down, immediately. Don’t be like Berlioz, take the time to record it; if you're not saving it somewhere, I think you're screwing up - but it’s up to you.

Your Turn: What are your note keeping tips?
 
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Lewis Pulsipher

Lewis Pulsipher

Dragon, White Dwarf, Fiend Folio

Marc_C

Solo Role Playing
Square grid note pads are my thing. I write down scenario kernels, draw map bits and game design ideas. I also write titles of books, tv shows and movies I liked to jump start my brain when inspiration is low.
 



Nine Hands

Explorer
I've been recording my game sessions with an ipad placed near the middle of the table. It may not work well for games which require a battlemap but the microphones pick up everyone's voice pretty clearly. Then before the next game session, I listen to the recording and jot notes down as I go. I can even use the ipad to write notes while its playing the audio. Eventually the audio is uploaded to Dropbox and the link shared with my players. Some listen to it, some do not.
 

pogre

Legend
I had a thought similar to this a few days ago and that was...

wait, ummm....

Looks at phone.

Oh yeah, I use my phone for this.
 

jasper

Rotten DM
From my SCA days add "And DATE IT and draft number it". I talking about writing the original date down not relying of the date stamp because I have occasionally open a document and just increased the font with no other changes.
 

lewpuls

Adventurer
From my SCA days add "And DATE IT and draft number it". I talking about writing the original date down not relying of the date stamp because I have occasionally open a document and just increased the font with no other changes.
Good advice when the software won't take care of it. Some programs (such as Info Select) can date the original note, and Windows has a hidden "date created" column as well as the date modified.
 

MNblockhead

A Title Much Cooler Than Anything on the Old Site
Moleskin notebook and Evernote. I keep looking at alternatives to Evernote, but it just has the right combination of features, the best web clipper I've found, and an excellent, if at times sluggish iOS app.

For moleskin notebooks, I now get the soft covers. Same number of pages, same book mark ribbon, and same pouch on the back folder, but being able to fold the front cover and used pages over makes it easier to take notes when standing up.

A good "space pen" or similar pen that can write on greasy, wet, waxy, or other imperfect paper surfaces is also a must.
 

univoxs

That's my dog, Walter
Supporter
All my stuff is done in onenote online now. Been doing that for a number of years now. Very handy. I have a sort of default format notebook I start out with and then build from there. I wrote a lil blog post about it once: OneNote for Game Night Edit: This is just in the context of GMing and world building. I'm not a professional.
 

I’m using “write down” generically to mean write on paper, type into a computer, speak into a voice recorder, or in some other way make a record, preferably a record that can be (and is) backed up regularly. I even use voice recognition to write notes, at times. While this advice is especially important for game designers, GM’s who make up their own adventures are effectively game designers. Though if you simply follow what’s written in a commercial module then this doesn’t apply.

Writing things down is good not only because you have a memory substitute, but because it can help you creatively. When you later look at what you’ve written you can see relationships you might not conceive in your mind, because you see it written down. You can see undesirable repetition, inconsistencies, or contradictions. You can associate things you otherwise wouldn't associate. Educators have known for a long time, when students write things down they learn better.
The act of writing itself aids memory, even if the written form is illegible, lost, or destroyed. Typing isn't as well studied (or at least, wasn't when I did the lit review for sped methods class in about 2008), and showed a slightly lower retention benefit, but given the changes in tech-savviness between the study and now, that cannot be squarely attributed to the different medium without a more recent revisit; the study was done using electronic typewriters, not computers proper. (It also was an area of particular interest to me — an educator with severe dysgraphia.)

Note that note taking while reading a module does seem to improve improve retention and at the table understanding. I've noticed this not just for myself, but other GMs at AL play and conventions; those I've seen with notes generally hve better grasp of the module and often seem to be better at the system. Including the one chap who doesn't use his notes at the table, but has them in his briefcase at the con. Not to mention, having hit point tracks and stats to hand is particularly useful with convoluted thick modules like the big-book AL Season anchor modules or even the mid-length L5R modules.
 

RobJN

Adventurer
I am always reminded of the Seinfeld episode where he scribbles down the joke in the middle of the night, and then nobody can read it the next day....


And yes, I keep notebooks (plural) by the bed, several by the desk in the office, as well as a Midori Traveler in the messenger bag for to-and-from work, and a Passport in the back pocket while at work.
 
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Emerikol

Adventurer
...good stuff snipped....

Your Turn: What are your note keeping tips?
This is a great suggestion and not just for gaming. How far though do you all go when it comes to world building? I tend to take it all the way and prefer writing it down.
 

I do a lot of my best work in good, old fashioned Notepad. Possibly the simplest Windows app there is.

I play D&D from a computer now (Roll20, Zoom) and keep materials like character sheets and game notes in separate folders. Whenever I have a new thought: Right click>New>Text Document. Add a title related to the idea, and just start typing. No delay in opening a complicated program, no auto-correct screwing up fantasy names, no complex auto-formatting. Just text, spaces, tabs, and carriage returns.
 

Emerikol

Adventurer
I do a lot of my best work in good, old fashioned Notepad. Possibly the simplest Windows app there is.

I play D&D from a computer now (Roll20, Zoom) and keep materials like character sheets and game notes in separate folders. Whenever I have a new thought: Right click>New>Text Document. Add a title related to the idea, and just start typing. No delay in opening a complicated program, no auto-correct screwing up fantasy names, no complex auto-formatting. Just text, spaces, tabs, and carriage returns.
I use scrivener right now but I've thought of switching to CherryTree because it's free and compatible for both Mac and Windows. I think CherryTree would support unformatted text. I like having everything in one file and being able to search everything. But I do like the advantages you mention. If it's working no need to fix it.
 

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