You know the kind I’m talking about: the little black book that tells the world you’re a Serious Writer.
But that little notebook is a big mistake, I eventually learned.
Here are three reasons why you should ditch it, and what you need to keep in your pocket instead.
Problem #1: A notebook locks your notes in rigid sequential order.
Creativity is fickle. New ideas come to us at random, unpredictable times. And they arrive in our brains completely out of order.
Raise your hand if you always think through all of your ideas from beginning to end, perfectly, right off the top of your head.
Anybody? No? Me either.
The problem with a traditional notebook is that you can only write things down in the order you think of them, not the order they need to be in. That necessitates spending a lot of time flipping back and forth through your pages to find something later.
Problem #2: With a notebook, you can’t sort your ideas by topic.
I highly doubt that there are any writers out there who only work on one single story idea, ever. We have plenty of ideas inside us. Some good, some bad. When you jot them all down in the same notebook, everything gets jumbled together.
Everything becomes confusing. Being a writer is confusing enough.
You don’t want to have to face the unpleasant choice of either leaving everything jumbled, or laboriously transcribing your notes from your notebook into other projects notebooks or folders. Or carrying around a pile of different notebooks for different projects.
There has to be a better way. And there is, but hold that thought for one more moment.
Problem #3: Those little notebooks fill up fast.
Let’s face it: any notebook that’s small enough to fit in your pocket can’t hold all that many pages. You’ll need another one soon, and another one after that. You’re constantly leaving good ideas behind in your old notebooks.
Pretty soon, you’ll have a desk drawer packed full of forgotten ideas that you never seem to get around to using, because they’re too hard to find.
That’s just plain depressing. But don’t worry. There’s a better way.
Allow me to introduce you to the un-notebook.
Don’t get me wrong: jotting down your ideas is crucial for every writer. Just don’t use a bound notebook for the job.
You can completely maximize your note-taking skills for less than a dollar. The solution is as close as the nearest office supply store.
I’m dead serious. They may seem useless, but these things are little 3 x 5 rectangles of pure creative opportunity.
An index card is about the same size as a page in one of those little black notebooks. Just big enough for a complete thought, but small enough to focus your ideas to a fine point. The difference is, these “pages” aren’t bound together.
That means you can lay them out on the table, so that you can see all of your ideas at once. You can rearrange them at will. Sort them by topic, importance, chronological order, or assemble them in any way that makes sense to you.
Move them around. Throw some out. Add more in the middle. Shuffle up the order and see if any new ideas occur to you.
You can do practically anything with index cards. Prop them up in front of your keyboard as you write. Stick them on the fridge to muse over them at night. Pin them upon a corkboard. Clip them to your manuscript pages. Put them in a box for later. Whatever works for you.
And perhaps best of all, the “un-notebook” never runs out. It never fills up. Grab a few more cards every so often, and there will always be another blank page waiting for your next big idea.
What’s the best way to keep index cards close at hand?
You could simply jam a stack of index cards in your pocket. That’s fine. Messy, but fine.
You can also rubber-band them together. Or use a binder clip. Punch a hole in the corner and use a binder ring. All of those are good options.
My personal favorite is the “pocket briefcase” from Levenger. It’s a beautifully crafted leather wallet made just for 3 x 5 index cards. I’ve carried mine around for five years now, and it still looks nearly brand-new.
It has two outside pockets and a center pocket, all lined with cloth. The stitching is impeccable. But the finest feature on the whole thing is the clipboard. Instead of using a metal clip, it uses tiny leather pockets to grab onto the ends of the card and hold it in place. Ingenious.
You wouldn’t think so, but the “pocket briefcase” makes a perfect writing surface. It’s rigid enough to act as a clipboard, while the leather surface gives you the feel of writing on a luxurious leather desk blotter.
In other words, it’s absolutely the perfect tool (and the perfect gift, hint hint) for any writer.
And if you need something to write with, I highly recommend the practically bulletproof Fisher Space Pen. It has a lifetime guarantee. Clip one to your keychain, so that it’s always handy. That alone will change your life.
Are you up to the index card challenge?
It sounds like such a tiny thing, capturing your ideas on index cards. But the payoff is real. After I ditched my notebooks and switched to index cards, my creativity and productivity soared.
True story: while I was writing one of my first books, I kept struggling with the story structure, and I just couldn’t seem to make it work. Then one day, I wrote all of the scenes on index cards, shuffled them up, and started laying them out in a completely new order. Suddenly, everything made so much more sense. The light bulb went on over my head. That book went on to become became one of my first published novels, and earned a blurb from a New York Times best-selling author.
So here’s my challenge to you. Get a short stack of index cards, carry them around in your pocket for a week, and write down all of the ideas that occur to you. Take them out and play with them. Lay them out. Move them around. Think about them. I’m willing to bet that after a few days, you will find yourself having more ideas, better ideas, and bigger ideas than ever before.
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