“I’ll never forget this is the devil’s whisper. Catch everything that matters in your notebook.”
Best-selling author Richard Bach
Notebooks and pens are portable, don’t have to be turned off for airplane take-offs and landings, and can even be used unobtrusively during sermons, meetings, or while waiting on the bus.
If your handwriting is bad, no one can read it over your shoulder.
That said, use whatever method works for you. Or methods. Handwrite when you need time to think. Switch to a keyboard if thoughts are coming quickly, already well-formed and ready to transcribe.
Choose your tools
Tools in any creative endeavor are important.
Good tools show respect for the process and for your ideas, but don’t get tools that are so dear you are afraid to use them.
Think about a couple of options: Blank pages (for some sketching?) or lined? What size pages do you want? Too small may feel too cramped; too large and it can’t be carried easily or surreptitiously pulled out in a meeting.
Be picky about your pens or pencils, too.
The most important test for your tools is whether you enjoy using them.
What’s in a notebook?
Talk to yourself about what you are learning, what’s happening in the news, what you’d like to see happen in your life or career, what you’ve learned about yourself or by watching others, what connections you can make between what you’re reading—fiction or nonfiction—and your work or life. Again, it helps to seewhat you are thinking.
Capture quotations or anecdotes. These may inspire a presentation or simply offer reassurance when you thumb back through them later.
Ask yourself questions and answer them. What results do I want from this report? What opening would grab attention? Where do I want to be in five years? Why does X keep popping into my head? What project do I tackle next? What are some wacky ways to attract more customers or readers?
Questions will jump-start your writing—and your thinking.
Prompts for Your Notebook
- Draw a picture of your desktop, diagram your study or your ideal study, studio, or individual space, sketch your coffee cup.
- Copy quotes that inspire you and talk about why.
- Make lists—lists of things to do, lists of things you have done, things to stop doing.
- Write about where you’ll be and what you’ll be doing in a year, in five years, ten years, twenty years, when you’re old. (And when will you be “old”?) What will your life look like? What do you hope you’ve accomplished? Focus on what you might consider “small” things as well as the “big somethings” you hope for.
- How will you know if you are successful, in a project or in your life? How do you measure success? What if the thing you desire most (having children, being a successful filmmaker or singer, being awarded a patent) never happens?
- What’s on your “bucket list”—the things you want to accomplish before you kick the bucket? Write your obituary. Pretend a historian is writing your biography; what evidence could the historian uncover that tells about you and your life?
- What would you do even if you didn’t get paid for it?
- What was the last creative exercise you engaged in? When was that? In what ways did it work? Not work? What did you learn?
- How can you use skills you’ve developed in a hobby or other activity in your job or home activities? How can what you’ve learned about your creative process help you in these other activities?
- Make lists of favorite books, favorite places you’ve visited, places you would like to visit, best ghost tours, best hamburgers in town, or whatever you want to explore.
- What skills or interests do you have that you haven’t been using or developing? Why are they dormant? Why did you once enjoy them? Will you return to something? What would it take to re-engage? Or will you move on to something else? What?
- What do you spend your time doing? What is worth giving up in order to have more time to develop your creative abilities?
- What projects—for your home, personal life, or professional life—do you want to work on? Do you have a presentation to make soon? Make notes about ideas over a period of time. Collect ideas, models, and samples. Start a project box or file, if necessary. Talk to yourself about what you’ve gathered, why it attracted your attention, and how you might incorporate it.
- Identify somewhere you would like to visit and plan the trip. Research things that interest you: food, folk history, ghost stories, architecture, history. Decide where you’ll stay and what restaurants you want to try.
- Identify rambles you’ll take—and take your notebook with you.