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I am a writer. In every book about writing fiction there are some recommendations, which I need to remember during the process of writing. Examples of best practices may include:

  • In every scene, it is necessary to describe where the characters are, what they look like (incl. how they are dressed), what time is it, plus information that competing media cannot replicate (smells -- books compete with movies and describing smells is one way to make a book more immersive than a movie).
  • Balance of description and action: Two paragraphs of description, then something must happen.
  • You cannot just tell what happens like a journalist. Instead, you need to paint a picture by using metaphors and comparisons.

What are scientifically proven strategies to memorize long list of items (best practices in this case)?

I know I could do a giant checklist of text improvement processes and go through it while editing every chapter. I already tried that and it didn't work that well. There were over a hundred methods from different books, organized by writing stage (ideation, plotting, writing first draft, editing).

I'm using Anki to increase my vocabulary (I'm not an English native speaker) and would like to have something similar for lists of best practices. However, Anki isn't really suitable for this purpose because it trains your ability to give correct answers to questions (not remember a set of best practices at a certain stage of writing).

In another question the use of flash cards was suggested. If I understand it correctly, this method requires me to create a flash card with following data:

Question: What things do you need to do at the beginning of chapter design phase?

Answer:

  1. Define the event that the chapter is describing.
  2. Write down the beat sheet.
  3. Find on the Internet the images of places and objects that are featured in this chapter.
  4. Write down the goals of the chapter.

This is fine, if the list of items is relatively small. But what if there are 40 or 100 things that I can do at the beginning of a phase (chapter design in this case) and I want to remember them all without a checklist?

An answer to this question suggests attaching emotions to the things I want to memorize. I probably could invent some stories to memorize. But I still don't feel like this is the "full solution" (even if I invent stories that trigger my emotions for every of the 100 best practices, I am still not sure that I will remember them all).

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    $\begingroup$ Many memorization techniques involve learning how to chunk the data (i.e., group things together). It is unlikely that being able to recall a long list of best practices is going to be particularly useful for actually using best practice. $\endgroup$ – StrongBad Jun 7 '18 at 15:19
  • $\begingroup$ @StrongBad Do you suggest using of written checklists instead of memorizing them? $\endgroup$ – Franz Drollig Jun 7 '18 at 15:24
  • $\begingroup$ I would suggest practicing one of the things until you get good at it, then move on to the next thing that you want to improve. $\endgroup$ – StrongBad Jun 7 '18 at 15:57
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We, as human beings, are generally not able to MEMORIZE that quantity of information. I suggest there are two ways to approach this issue:

1) Remembering WHERE information is as opposed to what information there is. This works with top-notch scientists and I am particularly fond of this strategy. For example, instead of remembering the parts of the neuron, you could remember where you wrote them down or how you can quickly find those out and you can refer back to those. Or, in your example, instead of remembering what you have to describe, you could remember where your checklist or notes are regarding that and just look it up every time. Now, all you have to remember is that only certain information goes into the description and where you can look that up. (similar to chunking as mentioned by one of the previous replies)

2) Experience -> Incorporating that much information can be done easily only if you have deliberately practised it A LOT. The more information there is, the more practice you need. By the sounds of it - you may need a lot if there are so many rules. I would assume, much like the scientific work I am involved it, at one point it will become second nature to you and you will feel when something is not described or written well.

I realize that these two points do not address your question directly: Generally if you want to remember a long list of items it all boils down to the strength of the connections you build. Build your own associations. In one incredible study, for example, an undergraduate long-distance runner managed to increase his memory span from 7 (which is the average) to 79 digits (in some cases this could also be chunks which can increase the amount of remembered information) after 230 hours of deliberate practice (1h a day 3-5 days/week). He did that by "recoding" long strings of numbers into associations - e.g. 3492 -> 3 minutes 49.2 seconds near world record mile time; 1944 -> near WWII end and so on (Ericsson, Chase & Faloon, 1980).

So, it is possible to remember that amount of information but I strongly discourage you to do so as it would limit the amount of creative work you can accomplish in the meantime.

P.S. Just as an example of how effective 2) is -> In order for me to recall that study I remember that a lot of hours of deliberate practice increase working memory recall span and I remembered that there was a case study. Then in order to remember exactly what the study was, I recalled where it must be (Somewhere in my Memory-related notes) and so that I can sort through them quickly I recalled that there was something with WWII and recoding strategies. I managed to find it within 30-45 seconds among A LOT of notes!

Hope that helps.

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