Outlines: Imagining Versus Writing

Wanting to speed up my transcribing practice, I recently tried doing away with that extra step of looking from the text to my own pen; I just read while letting my hand “follow” the outlines on a separate page off to the side.

It was certainly speedy. But I was surprised to also find how well-formed my outlines were (compared only to my own usual work, of course), and that some of the stylistic mistakes I’d been working out just disappeared.

Since this, I’ve noticed that in general, keeping my eyes a distance from what my pen is doing speeds me up—as though my outline-imagination was lighter without the anchor of the pen.

In speed reading methods, there is a similar effect. By “reading” slightly above the letters themselves, broader patterns can be taken in, boosting intake rate. Model artists recommend drawing without taking your eyes away from the subject as a way to break bad mental editing habits, and, I suppose, build up the direct connection between your imagination and your motor faculties themselves.

Is this a common or well-understood effect? Has it been applied to a study method?

(by routine-sibling for everyone)

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8 comments Add yours
  1. I haven't heard this principle applied to shorthand before, perhaps because by taking your attention away from the writing paper may be thought of as drawing shorthand, instead of writing.  Certainly when you type, you are not supposed to be looking at the keyboard, and in fact, your attention is focused on the paper, away from the keys.  So I'm not surprised that this approach could work for writing shorthand — if it does for you, go for it. 

  2. Oh, I'm going to have to try this! I don't know how much I really look at my pen though, I've never thought to think. I've noticed, though, that when it comes to some things that people recommend not to look at, I do better looking at, and others following their advice…so we'll see. Like in piano, I was never completely sold on never looking at the keys…sometimes I'd play memorized or improv pieces looking at the keys or my hands, but it never messed me up because I normally had fallen enough into a trance that my mind never went "Heh! Those are my hands! Let's jolt Tyler into screwing up this piece!" But then typing, after years of evolution (never really learned the keyboard…just hunt and pecked my way through QBasic) I've always been better looking away from the keyboard (except when it comes to that top row of numbers…grrrr) Now my typing's becoming a bit more "normal," but for quite some time I was kindof crawling, as my mother called it, all over the board when I typed…my right and left hands moving over and under each other with every word…and I still do that when I program.   But it seems like a common effect, I've heard about it a lot. The brain is a strange thing…Thanks for the tip, Derek! (It's Derek, right?) UT, ./[tyler]

  3. Yes indeed, the "Heh! Those are my hands!" problem! But I find it not so much a jolt as something like being followed around: more a "Hey, hand—isn't your mother calling you?" problem.

    A stroll around the web suggests this might be related to the old left-brain/right-brain issue. In the "contour drawing" I mentioned above, the point seems to be to leave the naming/simplifying half of your brain behind, building up the hands' relationship with the visually-observing part. Thus, it's help on some of the contour detail problems I have.

    But I don't think that's the whole story here, because it also helps to look away from *both* the text and the pen, or close my eyes. Think of that scene in "Searching for Bobby Fischer"; Ben Kingsley scatters all the chess pieces clean off the board, then prompts his student, "Now can you see it?"

    taaliba2, nice to have the confirmation.

    Yup, it's Derek.

  4. I'm an organist, and I relate to the above mainly with the pedals. Espeically in a fugue, I would get to the pedal entrance of the fugue subject (usually 4th entrance) and would think: "That's my foot pressing the pedal and making that sound!" Brian

  5. Mmmm. Organ : ) How long have you been playing? Do you have one or do you use your church's or something? I was privlidged enough to hear the largest and one of the oldest church organs in the NorthWest or something being played by its official organ taker-carer-of-er with just like me and 8-10 friends there! He played one of my favorites too! Toccata and Fugue (in Dm?) by Chopin, and when you said Fugue, Brian, it reminded me of when I used to play it when I was younger, I pronounced it "Talk-ata and Foo-Gee by Chop-in" heh. Never knew how to pronounce it till after it faded out of my repetoire!   Oh…just to keep this on topic…I typed this without looking at the keyboard! : D UT, ./[tyler]

  6. I'm a physician, but I have an avocational interest in the organ. I took organ lessons from age 6 thru age 21. The "Toccata and Fugue" that you're referring to is by J S Bach, who has been one of my favorites since I was boy: I used to have a poster with his picutre on it handing on my bedroom door!   I played one of the other major Bach organ works, "Passacaglia and Fugue," on my senior organ recital. I have both an organ and a harpsichord at my house, and I play occasionally play the organ at my church and elsewhere. We recently had a new organ installation here in Madison: It's moveable and is thought to be the largest movable object in the world. It was built by Orgelbau Kleis from Bonn. (I visited Bonn when I was in Germany in the summer of 1980.) Herr Kleis, who speaks excellent English, gave a public presentation at the organ's dediction. I'd like to play that organ sometime, but time on the instrument is at premium.   Brian

  7. Oh yes yes, it's been so long, my memory's all fuzzy like a comfy sweater without the scratch! I must be misremembering two mispronunciation memories as one : )   Ya know…if we got all us shorthanded people together and made a band…wow…I mean that's all I can say…wow…we've got pianos, organs, mandolins, guitars, not to mention accordians up the hoozah, and mix it all with just the right amount of collective nerd…we'd ROCK!! lol!   I'm sure we'd even come up with a more efficient way of transcribing music! Now to write out your latest sonata you don't need lined paper, you can write in light-line cursive styled strokes, and all just a bit faster than any piece need be played!! If you learn the two hand technique, you can even add dance coreography underneath as you go! Just be careful to begin the dance lines with the traditional curled plus sign or you may have a mistake like what happened last year in the Paris Opera house when they were playing opening (and closing) night of my piece "Swirling In The Tira Like A Misu" (a modern expressionistic piece highlighting the blend of body, coffee, and soul) They misundertook the dance lines for music…and I must say, it sounded better than I thought, but the audience couldn't take music that sounded like a 3rd arabesque, assemblé, 5th, pas de basque (totally gorgeous step of course), penché, pirouette, assemblé, lose aplomb, fall to the floor (gracefully…gracefully), curtain.   Smile, curtsy, ./[tyler]

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