I don’t like notebooks.
(Phew! I’ve wanted to confess that for some time.)
It’s not practical or an aesthetic aversion — they can be things of superb utility and immense beauty.
I simply hate what they represent — a crutch for the frailty of human memory.
The problem with crutches is they can very easily become dependencies.
And dependencies, addictions.
And this is where I’ve been burned before.
I used to keep notebooks for all manner of writing purposes — character sketches, random inspirations, doodling poetically and artistically.
My favourite was a small, pocket sized book — a short pencil could fit into the spine, bound in dark green leather with a Celtic knot embossed on the cover.
It was a beautiful thing to hold.
It was given to me by a close friend who was also a writer (but who has since gone on to become a stellar editor).
She told me all successful writers used notebooks to jot down their musings — it was the key to capturing stories in their infancy and teasing them into shape.
So, it became my ideas notebook.
I was especially fond of taking it out in public and scribbling in it ostentatiously — a mind-blowing idea or a plot device or a story twist that I didn’t want to let go of.
It quickly became my go to place when I wanted to start a new story — the single repository of every flash of inspiration I’d had.
And then one day, it was gone.
And with it, years and years of story ideas.
I was devastated.
So much so, I stopped creating.
I’ve never found myself short of an idea for a story.
(It’s turning them into good stories that’s the kicker — but that’s the same for all writers.)
In fact, I don’t believe anyone really is in a position to be short of ideas.
There’s just so much in the world to inspire the writer in all of us — in our day-to-day dealings with each other and our environment, in the actions we take and trains-of-thought we follow, in the sensory snippets we take in and emotions we feel.
It took me a bit of time to recover from the loss of that notebook.
For a while, I convinced myself I would never have another idea again — that I had poured my heart and soul into that little book of inspiration, and with its loss I was creatively barren.
Of course, I was just being a precious little snow flake.
Ideas are everywhere.
I didn’t need to capture them and squirrel them away for a time when there would be a dearth of things to inspire.
The only thing I needed to do was remember those worthy of keeping.
Clearing Out the Dross
To be honest, a lot of what I used to record in my journals and notebooks was utter tripe.
I am guessing that’s no revelation to other notebook-loving writers.
Often, casting an eye over my ideas a second time, after coming off the high of inspiration, revealed their true colours — the colour of ordure.
Why, then, did I spend so much time bothering to record what was ultimately rubbish for the sake of the few ideas worthy of keeping?
When I properly considered it, most of the ideas that went on to become stories were ones that stuck in my memory anyway — the ones I liked enough to turn over and digest and ponder throughout the hours and days that followed.
And so I did away with the notebook. (Or didn’t bother replacing it.)
Now I will admit, I think my memory is a little above that of the average person.
(But, I would venture most people have simply fallen out of the habit of using it.)
I put it down to a misspent youth arguing over the minutiae of Doctor Who episodes and Star Wars movies with my friends.
I certainly grew up in an age before the mobile phone — a time when it was easier to remember the phone numbers of your family and friends than to carry a Teledex around. (Look it up.)
Despite this, however, it was scary at first — reconciling myself to letting ideas go.
But it wasn’t the end of the world, or my creative drive.
The New Paradigm
I now firmly subscribe to the principle that if an idea is worthy of being turned into a story — of me expending time and creative and emotional resources on it — I will remember it.
Simple as that.
Yes, there have been ideas — one’s that have excited me — that I have forgotten, never to be recalled.
And I mourned them.
But I am not so precious about my ability as a writer as to think a single forgotten idea would make the difference between fame and ignominy.
I love the fact that I no longer waste time or emotional energy on dead-end ideas.
If it doesn’t grab me enough to remember it, how can I expect it to grab a reader?
My creative energy is now spend purely on developing ideas.
I still use my notebooks — but now they are tools merely for planning and drafting.
Not for letting rotten ideas fester.
Now I’m not suggesting you ditch the notebooks in favour of the grey matter.
It is a hard ask — especially in a world where we are increasingly encouraged to use external repositories as extensions of our memory.
But more importantly, I believe every writer must find their own feet.
Which means, you don’t need me proselytising you.
This simply works for me.
It flies in the face of conventional wisdom, but it works.
What part of your creative process doesn’t follow accepted trends?
All images from pixabay.com