Yesterday I shared my 5 top-secret, stupendious, studying rules. (Like the exaggeration?) If you want to rock your studying world, read it here. But I have to tell you a secret, so come in close.
Those five rules are no where near as stupendious as what I'm going to share with you today. Not even close. What I'm about to share is my most efficient weapon in studying. You ready? Wait for it, wait for it...
::I write in my books::
I know. Gasp. Shock. Scream.
I have learned that the world is divided into two types of people: Those of us who write in books, and those of us who don't.
I proudly belong to the writing group, and I'd like to share why.
Let me begin by admiting I am a true bibliophile. I love books; in fact, I believe I am obesessed with books. I say that my first love was pencils, hinting at my love of sketching, but before I became an artist I was a reader. I distinctively remember the moment I realized I could read. I was in my mother's or aunt's powder blue volkswagon bug and I was effortlessly reading billboards as we drove through the streets of L.A. After that I remember hours of reading the Bible with my grandfather, hours reading the set of encyclopedia's my grandmother kept in the dark bedroom closet that smelled of moth balls and pine sol (She had hard wood floors throughout-even in the closets), and of course reading my favorites books: The Pokey Puppy and Little Bear.
(I so loved that puppy and little bear. My heart skips a beat when I see either book, just like it did when I was a young girl, starting to read.)
I'm desperately trying to express my love of reading, which has followed me through my life. My mother is a copious reader, and now my daughter is also a copious reader.
Now that we have my love lines drawn in the sky, let's talk about the joy of writing in books.
I believe, strongly, that writing in books create a conversation between you, the reader, and the book/author/characters. What happens when you write in a book is that you begin to interact with the content, creating a back and forth discourse between what the book/author/character says or thinks and what you, the reader, thinks.
Wait, I know that "conversation" doesn't feel important, but, it is--it very much is. Let me explain why.
We learn by interacting and forming connections; our brain depends on these connections. Let me see if I can explain it quickly, and easily. Our brain is made of connections called synapses. These synapses form connections every time we learn something new, experience something, etc. When we have these "new" or additional experiences/information our brain creates new connections, diverse connections, and connections between places that weren't necessarily connected before. What this all means is that every time you have a new experience you make another synaptic connection. The more connections, the richer your brain. The richer your brain, the more you are able to learn.
Learning creates a snowball effect in your brain.
How does writing in your book help facilitate that snowball effect? Well, when you write in your book you are actively engaging with your book. You are interacting with the content. You are talking back to the author, or the character and sharing your opinion. This forces you into an active, participant position with the book, instead of a passive position.
It is similiar to when you are in class. When you are in a classroom where the professor lectures while you sit and recieve, your absorbtion of the material is less than if the professor adds group discussions into the lecture. When you discuss, particularly when you ask questions or challenge information, you are seeking connections, forming connections, and creating a dialogue between you and the information. Not to mention when a classroom is rich in discussion you also have the added benefit of learning from other ideas. It is not neccesary that you agree with those ideas, but that you are at least open and listen to them.
So that brings us back to books. When you write in books you are creating that rich, dynamic discourse between yourself and the book that happens in classrooms rich with discussion. It doesn't matter that the book does not "speak" back, it matters that you interact with the information. When you interact with the information you may discover something the author missed, or didn't know--and that, that leads to further research or "new knowledge."
That research or "new knowledge" is what academia is about. It is about the on-going conversation between scholars about important and relevant content. Each new piece of research should build upon that which came before it, while also advancing it a little further.
But how do you do it, and is it similiar to highlighting?
I don't think writing in books is similar to highlighting. Honestly, I would never highlight in a book. Maybe it's the artist in me, but the random slashes of fluorescent colors disturbs me. Instead, what I do is underline and annotate or take notes in my books.
I only use pencils, mechanical, .5 lead, and I am very careful not to haphazardly draw crooked or odd-looking lines. The point, for me at least, is to gently call attention to key points, ideas that struck me.
Also, what is important to my process is note taking--directly on the page. Some books lend themselves to more or less annotating, but I am always mindful to write out my thoughts, questions directly on the page.
If you wonder what to write, here are some clues:
1. Ask questions, or record questions that come to mind as you are reading.
2. Write out key points/thesis in words you can understand, i.e. in your own words.
3. Write connections you may find with other pieces of literature, research, etc.
4. Write out emotional responses. If you feel something is wrong--write it.
5. Write down ideas for future research, or things you'd like to research.
6. Write definitions of words you don't understand. (Underline those words too.)
7. Record your thoughts, the why behind your responses in #4.
The key in this process is to preserve your initial reactions so that when you need to--the information is present. Often times we think we will remember what we thought/felt/saw/questioned, but the truth is the further we read, the more we have to remember.
It is also key to develop your own "system" of annotating the text. You may have a certain way of highlighting key terms/words, or of writing short word strings to remember what you thought. That is what annotating is about; however, make sure you know your system and can come back to the information with no problems of understanding it.
My suggestion is to let it develop organically. With time, as you become more comfortable, you will find what works perfectly for you. And when you find that--stick to it.
Finally, I want stress how important it is to write things down. Not solely because it records it, but also because through the act of writing we do a number of things that help us understand content deeper, which in turn commits the learning to our memory. *See nerdy discussion on brain synapses above*
When you write, especially if you are taking quick/short hand notes, you have to summarize and deduct the key points of an arguement. You also have to put things in your own words. Doing those things ensures that you understand the information and that it is now a part of your knowledge base.
Sure, it's more time consuming, but studying from your annotated notes is much easier than opening up a blank book with a bunch of words on it you read weeks ago--and don't recall. Writing preserves that learning experience. It preserves it in your mind, and it also preserves it in your book should your mind back out the night before your paper is due, or your final occurs.
This is what us English/Literature majors do, but I believe it is a powerful tool for any critical reading.
For the record I'd like to make it known that in my most favorite book in the world, The Bluest Eye, I have not written in the margins or underlined a single line. It is just so sacred to me. It is full of post-it notes, but no pencil has marked its beautiful pages.
I'd also like the record to state that I abhor corner page folding. Nope, I love my pages to be as flat and unwrinkled as possible.
You wanna know something? When I open a book and see my notes carefully sketched in the margins and my lines drawn carefully from edge to spine I can't help but feel like the book is alive, like my thoughts sketched in graphite dance and float above the pages with life, learning. I get excited. The pages are new, pristine, flat and gracefully...I have added my words to the scholarship, the conversation, the story of the book.
When my books are published one day, I want to see pages like that, pages where my readers have screamed at me, laughed with me...wrinkled circles where they have cried with me--that is my dream, to write books that come alive.
P.s. Don't ever write in someone else's book. No library books, no borrowed books--only books that are your own. Because, I can tell you...it will piss someone off. Someone like me.