Keep a notebook. Travel with it, eat with it, sleep with it. Slap into it every stray thought that flutters up into your brain. Cheap paper is less perishable than gray matter, and lead pencil markings endure longer than memory. – Jack London
In 1956 a guy called George Miller put forward a theory that the number of items a human can hold in their working memory span is between 5 and 9 (7 plus or minus 2). The 7 plus or minus 2 thingummy is oft referred to as Miller’s law and it doesn’t take a genius to work out that, even with a good memory span, as new items enter your mind then others are going to drop out (which I think should be called Sod’s Law!).
Now memory is one good reason for using a notebook but another is to capture the very essence of a thought. I don’t mean just the bare bones – I mean that little surge of enthusiasm that hits when you just know you are onto something exciting. Don’t think for a single minute that you can write it down later and still grasp hold of that which sent you into a paroxysm of pleasure – you won’t. Thoughts are so transient and you need to grab every last bit of them while you can.
That’s where keeping a notebook at the ready comes in, and I’ve engaged in this practice (Notebookery, as I call it) for over forty years – I just love ‘em! Don’t get me wrong, I’m a massively keen computer user but you just cannot beat the feeling of pen on paper for gathering a cornucopia of creativity. I use a lot of notebooks and have even more. It is no secret amongst my friends that the gap between my notebook usage and my notebook wants is wide indeed – due, in the main, to my inability to pass a stationery shop without going in to ‘Have A Quick Look’, ‘Just In Case’ and ‘Oh I’ve Got To Have That One!’
Project wise, I don’t stick to one notebook and each new endeavour most certainly warrants a new book from my collection! I carry a notebook everywhere I go which, generally, is an A5 size sketch book. For drafting it’s an A4 sketchbook – I like the thickness of the paper. The thin stuff just doesn’t cut it for me because I go back and forth over the pages many times so I need something that can withstand such heavy usage. I do use other more formal ones but, without exception, all of them have one thing in common – unlined paper. I need to scribble and doodle all over the place and lines would feel too much like being caged.
For longer term projects I use a disc bound notebook system so I can move the pages around – my particular favourite is M by Staples Arc Notebooks though, sadly, they don’t do as many colours as they used to (good job I bought the whole range when they did then…!).
Engaging in notebookery can take a little getting used to – notwithstanding that you need to build up the habit of recording your thoughts and ideas as they arrive, the very act of writing them down can seem really strange. When I started out I almost felt embarrassed and took a while to shake the feeling that someone was looking over my shoulder.
Start gently – get yourself a notebook (obvs!) and set yourself a little challenge of writing things down over, say, a couple of weeks. You might want to start by using your daily commute to set goals, make notes of places of interest, do some meal planning, jot down thoughts on your dream future – in fact, anything you like. You may well find that once you whip your notebook out to write something your mind goes completely blank – this is perfectly normal so just plug away at it until you become more comfortable with the process.
Once you get used to turning mind flits and flutters into the tangible, by committing them to paper, your ideas will gather pace as will your creative life along with, dare I suggest, your inability to walk by a stationery shop without popping in – ‘Just In Case!’