In the lead up to Macworld, following the advice of countless writers, I purchased a set of Field Notes for casual note taking purposes. In the past, I've admittedly been dismissive of physical note taking, often mistakenly believing my possession of a smartphone or my near-constant proximity to a computer discounts the need for carrying a pen and paper. Why would I ever need an old-fashioned, out-of-sync medium for recording my own thoughts? Surely I can just remember anything that comes to mind, anyway?
I couldn't have been more wrong.
Last week, emphatically disproving all of my prior judgments, I was on the phone in the hallway at work when, out of nowhere, an idea struck me. Not just any old idea, I'm talking about a genuine epiphany. In the immediacy of the moment and amidst a deep telephone conversation, I did not have the means or composure (both physically and psychologically) to record the idea electronically, nor could I rush back into the office to my computer. In retrospect, I could've put the call on speaker and opened Notes.app or sent myself an email, but I chose not to. As is characteristic of most inspirational moments, I was utterly bereft of any connection to my normal behavioral responses and was at a sincere loss for what to do. Instinctively, I reached for my otherwise untouched notebook in my front jean pocket.
Written one-handed against a wall, my scribbles would likely be perceived as non-sensical and simplistic (at best) to any onlooker, but the idea was now recorded and firm. The genesis of the idea had been transferred from my mind to a tangible object and the potential for transience and loss had been mitigated. All this from a piece of paper.
The simple act of recording a thought, although impermanent, allowed the idea to remain within reach. Rather than having a fleeting idea and relegating the thought to some deep recess of my consciousness, I wrote the raw summary of my idea at the moment of its inception and thereby allowed the idea to develop. The mere physical action of committing thought to ink was enough to firmly instantiate the idea in my mind, and to translate it from something I'd likely lose and corrupt, into something truly solid and strong.
Ideas flicker to life from time to time, but it's all-too-easy to leave them behind -- to promise yourself that you'll think about the idea's contents in detail a little later. This is one of the worst forms of self-betrayal an individual can commit.
Many of my favorite writers have written about the topic of ideas and the message is constant across the board: record your ideas on paper. Shawn Blanc goes as far as to keep a waterproof notepad in the shower. Shawn writes:
My first reaction to a new idea is to write it down as soon as I can. Since the idea is still organic and fresh at first, it’s important to jot it down in its purest form. Also, by writing the idea down it clears my mind to continue thinking about the idea some more and even exploring its grander scope. Or sometimes, after I’ve written the idea down I have nothing more to think about and my mind is clear once again.
Such sentiments, for me at least, have been all too easy to dismiss. I've unfairly judged the notion of recording ideas as flamboyant and unnecessary. As I asserted earlier, I could not have been more wrong.
In the days since the recording of my idea, the creativity of my mind has fostered an environment in which the idea can be developed, nurtured, and extrapolated. Although it is only recorded in, what Shawn calls, its "purest form," it has taken a life of its own. Rather than merging with competing ideas and sensory distractions, the written idea remains untouched, simple, and brilliant.
Pardon the cringeworthy comparison, but if an idea is a seed, then paper is the soil, and foregoing the opportunity to embrace such a great tool is an all-too-easy crime to perpetrate.
So, take it from me, write your ideas down. It is one of the most surprising, beneficial, and positive things you can do. If you value your thoughts and musings, give your thinking mind an opportunity to thrive.