For me, there are a couple of things that really help getting over the fear of the blank page and that got me started.
Use materials that I like and enjoy (a A5 book with blank pages, fineliners 0,4 in various colours, a grey marker - not essential, as I got it after Manchester, but it still makes me smile to have it now). Note: no pencil, no eraser, no typex or anything that would let me fix a mistake. Mistakes are part of the process.
Set up constraints for myself
I allow myself about 3 min before the talk starts to write down the title, speaker, speaker’s twitter handle, etc. This immediately breaks the emptyness of the page, with something safe.
I’m only allowed to use ONE page for the entire sketchnote. However, I’m allowed unlimited scribble pages if I want to quickly note something important during the talk and I’m not at that point yet in my sketchnote. I usually only use two scribble pages, and throw them out after. Their only purpose is for me to quickly note down some important points to write down slowly in my sketchnote later when I get to it. For the sketchnote, I can focus on writing slowly and legibly, rather than trying to capture everything everything
I am only allowed to use the time that the talk lasts, including Q&A (and a max of about 2 min to finish up the last things before I post it on twitter). I only broke this rule 3 times, all at the very end of the conference and when the talk hit me hard emotionally. Still, I broke it by adding about 15 min at the end before I was happy enough with the sketchnote. This time constraint is a very effective method to battle my perfectionism that would otherwise paralyze me.
I allow myself the first few minutes of a talk to acclimatize. The first few minutes are scribble notes only, until I get a bit of sense how I want to set up the note. This phase can last a max of 5 min (intro time) till I either start purposefully or randomly.
My sketchnotes are for me primarily. And I’m a text based gal. So, I ignore all the talk that sketchnotes have to include sketches and drawings. I’ll add visuals to illustrate or when it feels good, but for me they are secondary to the text. I write what I want to remember from the talk: content, story flow and memorable quotes.
There is usually plenty of time within the talk to write slowly: during longer examples or less relevant points. I take this time to structure and to look over my scribbles if there is something important I wanted to add.
Mostly, I enjoy the high focus that sketchnoting requires. It really allows me to focus on the talks and try to gather what I want to remember from a talk. (Even if I don’t personally enjoy a talk much, I still enjoy making the sketchnotes. So, it’s a different focus from: I’m not enjoying this to let’s try to capture well all the same).
Sharing my sketchnotes has been rewarding with a lot of people responding and finding them valuable. None of the sketchnotes are perfect. They usually contain spelling errors or could have been structured better if I knew the whole talk up front. Yet, it is their imperfections that make them dear to me. It is what I could do within that period of time, how I felt, what associations I made and what I chose to remember while I was seated there listening.