I'm sick of all these half-filled notebooks
I have a poor sense of memory, to put it kindly...
People often make that claim flippantly, but in my case it’s been a lifetime frustration; specifically when it comes to the minutia of life. My brain has a difficult time earmarking small details for later reference, and as a result I’ve adopted the practice of filling countless notebooks with thoughts as they come to me.
I have a total of six "working" notebooks: two in my backpack, one on my dresser, one on my office desk, and two on my bookshelf. In addition to those, I keep a detailed log of ideas on my computer through a note-taking application.
Most of the ideas in those notebooks are just sitting there. The thoughts were exorcised onto paper but then were never given life. I revisit them from time to time, but largely they function solely as records of my unfinished work.
This has me wrestling with my own thoughts on whether or not it’s actually healthy to use notebooks in this way. It’s a practice I’ve always adhered to, but now more than a log of my creativity these pages are feeling more and more like a graveyard.
I’ve begun to think it might be better for me to read through them one last time and then bury them in a field somewhere.
“Keeping a writer’s notebook is the best way to immortalize bad ideas.” — Stephen King
Stephen King challenges the idea of jotting down creative ideas in his book On Writing. Instead of recording ideas, he adheres to the practice of simply taking what sticks. His opinion is that if an idea falls through the back door of your mind, it probably wasn’t worth keeping in the first place.
Usually I’d say: Stephen that’s great, but you’re a genius and I have a brain that can’t master the art of remembering whether or not I’ve told a story to the same friend three times at a dinner party. What if I have a brilliant idea and then I forget it before I can put pen to paper? I’m not a genius, so I can’t trust my brain to come through when it really counts.
That excuse just doesn’t cut it anymore.
If I take inventory, the sum total of my work has come from ideas that refused to be forgotten. They paced anxiously in my thoughts until I sat down and did the hard work of putting them to the page.
Sure, maybe a few times I’ve circled back and read a blurb in one of my notebooks that has sparked some creativity, but I could probably count those instances on one hand.
By and large, the ideas that stick with me on their own are the ideas that will keep me motivated to push forward throughout the exhausting process of creating.
In my experience, jotting down ideas and creating endless outlines feels like moving forward, but I'm beginning to realize that it's just an illusion. Notebooks are intended for quick thoughts that no one else will ever read. When those ideas hit a snag, it becomes easy to drop them and move onto the next exciting thought.
This is not forward progress, it’s side to side movement and it equates to a lot of wasted time. When I’ve gone back to my notebooks for inspiration, I’ve often found myself looking instead on a mountain of unfinished ideas, which leads to discouragement and makes it even harder to start a meaningful project.
So Stephen was right all along. Who knew?
Here's the takeaway: I can’t be overly precious with my ideas.
I'm realizing that if I forget an idea, it was either trash to begin with or it’ll come back to me when it really matters. Simple as that.
Furthermore, I can't be afraid to live inside of one idea for days, weeks, months, or years. Getting that initial spark onto a piece of paper is fun, but I'll never complete anything meaningful if I don't take the next step and commit myself to the ideas that I just can’t get away from.
No one is going to read my notebooks full of half-started ideas. So I'm committing to creating things that will get seen. Things that I could get criticized for. Things that scare me.