Step one: read about how it's important to keep a notebook. Step two: buy notebook. Step three: abandon notebook after twelve pages. Repeat.

Blank canvas

"Always carry a pen and a little notebook with you, because you never can tell when inspiration will hit you." - Get Started in Stand-Up Comedy by Logan Murray

I love the idea of keeping a notebook, because it makes me feel like a Real Writer. I might not have finished my screenplay, but I do have a fresh Moleskine Pocket Ruled Notebook, ready and waiting to capture my astute comic observations on what it means to be human!

In reality, though, I've probably read Joan Didion's 'On Keeping a Notebook' more than I've actually noted anything down. I've tried carrying one around in my bag1, but most of my ideas come to me while I'm e.g. walking or showering or trying to get to sleep. And if I do get inspired while I'm actually sat at a table, it's almost always because I'm talking to someone – so it feels like a bit of a faux pas to suddenly whip it out and be like: "excuse me while I write down what you just said / what you just did / why you're annoying me right now, because I'm pretty sure I can get a bunch of strangers to laugh at you at some point in the future."

I've also tried apps like Evernote, but I've found they go too far in the opposite direction: they make it too easy. It doesn't take long for my digital notebooks to become an intractable mess of observations that weren't worth recording ("It's annoying when waiters memorise orders") and jokes that don't quite work ("I once spent an afternoon trying to invent metric time – it's ten kilodays later and it still hasn't caught on!"). As Stephen King once pointed out:

A writer’s notebook is the best way in the world to immortalise bad ideas. My idea about a good idea is one that sticks around and sticks around and sticks around.

But I still need some way of recording my better ideas, and luckily, I've found a compromise that works: daily mind-dumps. Every evening when I get home, I try to spend ten minutes writing down thoughts and highlights from my day.2 Not only does this help me remember the stuff worth remembering, but my memory – by definition – automatically filters out everything that's forgettable. And because I don't have the time pressure of trying to make notes while trying to exist as a functional adult, it gives me a chance to reflect and explore ideas in more detail.

1Because they are absolutely not 'pocket' sized.

2Full disclosure: I say 'try to' because I haven't managed to convert this into a daily habit yet. It's Thursday, and I've only managed to do this twice this week. I'm focusing on my resolutions for now!

Pro tips

Don't buy fancy notebooks. I know they look awesome, but one of the main reasons I'm never able to finish a fancy notebook is that my thoughts never feel worthy of them. (One of the notes in my last daily-dump was: "At some point in the past, people had sex by instinct. Now you have to learn about it. Does that mean there was some overlap period where people were just guessing??") I've found Moleskine Cahiers the best – they're more thin and disposable than the regular hardback ones, but are still sufficiently fancy that I feel like a Real Writer️.

Do monthly reviews. At the end of every month, I start a new page and re-write the highlights from that month. That makes it easier to find the good stuff when I actually want to write some routines, and also gives me an opportunity to spot themes and make connections.

So could this work for you? Or do you have an even better system for capturing inspiration?

Header photo by Ali Yahya on Unsplash.