I don't like to write. I'm a terrible speller, and I have terrible sentence structure, I use punctuation haphazardly because I don't truly understand it. I usually embarrass myself when something I've written gets published. (Like, perhaps, right now?) When people say, "I don't know how to draw, I'm not an artist." I understand. I don't know how to write, I'm not a writer. With all that being said, writing is simply too useful for me to not do it at all. Text messages, journal entries, scripts for comics, bizarre observations, I might not consider myself a writer but I write all over the place!
I wonder about the reverse. Do the people who have no interest in being a capital "A" Artist feel fine busting out sketches and doodles? I don't think most people do, and, until I read "The Sketchnote Handbook" by my friend Mike Rohde, it never occurred how much people who write off drawing are missing out.
Often people look at drawing and sketching as a superfluous trait akin to being a really good whistler. Good for you if you take it seriously, but it's hardly in the same league as having an understanding of language, reading, or writing. I think "The Sketchnote Handbook" gives us a sense that drawing is a great deal more useful to everybody. That's an important lesson to pass on.
Mike maintains that "sketch notes", which are a combination of words, symbols, and pictures, can be vastly more effective at getting to and retaining the core of an idea than traditional, text only notes. The book bills itself as a toolbox for helping people incorporate sketching into their note taking, specifically in the context of seminars, meetings, classes, and the like. With a lot of fun mixed in, he makes his point convincingly. I think you'd be hard pressed to argue with him.
Yet, while the idea that words, symbols and pictures add up to more than the sum of their parts seems like it would be right up the alley of a cartoonist, "words, pictures, and symbols" being just about our entire arsenal, there's another important aspect to the book that I think most cartoonists could learn from. Mike points out what little drawing skill you really need in order to kick an idea's ass. You don't have to draw like Chris Ware in order to convey gorgeous, inspiring, useful ideas in crude, crazy, stick figures.
Mike illustrates wonderfully, through tons of simple, beautifully drawn pages, that sketching is no more complex than writing. Once you've learned the alphabet, it doesn't matter if your penmanship rivals the great calligraphers of the last hundred years. All that matters is that your writing is legible. After that, what you're writing is usually all that matters.