How to take notes

This entry is part 23 of 39 in the series Manual


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Note-taking is a sacred duty. The first secretaries recorded the mandates of heaven, as divined from entrails or the cracks on tortoise shells.

Stay in character. Wear surgical gloves and carry a mute parrot under your hat.

Apprentice yourself to an earthworm, whose assiduous note-taking turns dirt into soil.

Don’t write what you hear—what good is that?—but how you hear it.

Never lift a pen from the page, even to dot an i, lest it become lost in lust for the flange of an ear.

Use unlined stationary and let your letters imbricate to better shed the sweat of your brow.

Staple your tongue to the moonlight until you learn how to shine with borrowed radiance.

The goal is become invisible, like a street photographer in the mountains.

Type rhythmically, in 4/4 time. Improvise a work song to make it go faster.

Have your way with semiquaver and crotchet, but beware the Franciscan Minims of the Perpetual Help of Mary.

Domesticate the hortatory: speak off a freshly laundered cuff, blank of ink.

Get speech recognition software and use it to transcribe whatever you babble in your sleep or in moments of ecstasy.

Invent the world’s most offhand shorthand, in which each letter is signified by a random mark.

There are certain sentences that can only be heard by note-takers. They lurk like puns, disguised as slips of the tongue, stammerings and clearings of the throat.

Notice everything.

Marry the slate to the chalk with a long claw’s screech.

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Dave Bonta (bio) crowd-sources his problems by following his gut, which he shares with 100 trillion of his closest microbial friends — a close-knit, symbiotic community comprising several thousand species of bacteria, fungi, and protozoa. In a similarly collaborative fashion, all of Dave’s writing is available for reuse and creative remix under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 United States License. For attribution in printed material, his name (Dave Bonta) will suffice, but for web use, please link back to the original. Contact him for permission to waive the “share alike” provision (e.g. for use in a conventionally copyrighted work).


  1. Whilst I know of your deep affection for all the fibre arts, did you really mean to advise having your way with a hook rather than a quarter note?


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