Your Notes Don't Have To Look Good - Verbal To Visual - Doug Neill - sketchnoting, visual note-taking, visual notes, graphic recording, todd henry, die empty

Your Notes Don’t Have To Look Good

It’s an easy trap to fall into when taking visual notes.

You learn about sketchnoting, start following people that are sharing their work on Instagram or Twitter, and over time you start to think that sketchnotes need to look a particular way.

Worse yet, you start to think that sketchnotes need to look good.

And making sketchnotes that look good becomes your goal, as opposed making sketchnotes that serve a purpose.

I’ve fallen into that trap many times, but I just had an experience that reminded me how nice it is to get lost in idea exploration with zero care given to how my notes will look to anyone other than me.

And, somewhat paradoxically, I’d like to share with you those notes and my experience.

Finding Flow

I’ve been reviewing Todd Henry’s book Die Empty, which I read and marked up at the beginning of this year.

I knew that there were lots of ideas within that book that I wanted to act on, but it was hard to get a sense of the big picture by just flipping through the pages and looking at what I had underlined and the notes that I took in the margin.

So, I decided to make a single rough page of notes for each chapter.

I didn’t have any plan for how I would fill each page, other than the initial heading with the chapter number and title. From there I took a quick look through the headings within the chapter as well as my margin notes to see if any type of structure emerged.

Sometimes that resulted in a simple diagram, other times lists. Some pages are text heavy, others image heavy. None of it is polished but it all makes sense to me, which is the only thing that matters.

I spent a few hours in a state of flow while making these notes, lost in the ideas that I was capturing as well and the ways in which I wanted to follow up on those ideas.

Much of that follow-up will be personal – new habits and processes that I’d like to bring into my own work and life, and by laying out all twelve pages I’ll have a much better sense of the connections between these ideas and how best to implement them in my life in a meaningful way.

But some of that follow-up will be public, and here’s where the nuance comes in.

Let’s Add Some Nuance

Some of the ideas within Die Empty are relevant enough to what we do here at Verbal To Visual that I want to share them with you, and in those cases I do plan on polishing up portions of these rough sketchnotes to make them more useful to others.

But understand that taking notes for yourself and creating a useful visual presentation for others are two different things.

They’re similar skill sets, and they play off of each other really well, but I don’t want you to get caught up in the thought that your personal sketchnotes need to appeal to anyone other than you.

So keep this in mind the next time you put pen to paper:

The goal of taking notes isn’t to make something that looks good, it’s to make something that’s useful.

Focus on that and most everything else will fall into place.

Good luck,



Want To Dig Deeper?

If you’re new to the idea of sketchnoting and excited to develop more visual thinking tools, I think you’d enjoy our foundational course An Introduction To Visual Note-Taking.

If you’d like to make sketchnoted videos like the one you saw here, we’ve got a course for that too! Check out How To Make Sketchnote Videos.

If you’re an educator interested in bringing visual note-taking into your classroom, check out Sketchnoting In The Classroom.

And if you want to create new personal and professional opportunities by sharing the authentic journey of your skill development online, check out Learn In Public.