I was enjoying a delightful lunch with Harry Browne and a few other libertarians. Harry was discussing an upcoming book project. As usual with Harry, it was fascinating, enlightening and fun listening.
Someone at the table commented on something Harry had said, adding a surprising fact and quote that backed up Harry’s argument.
Harry listened attentively to the first few words, and then — still listening carefully — he pulled out a pad and pen and jotted down the information. “What was the name of that congressman you quoted?” he asked. He wrote that down, too.
I was impressed. Harry — a prolific writer and New York Times bestselling author — had obviously learned to grab onto ideas and important information that came his way. And to write it down, not trust his memory.
It’s a great idea. Probably everyone has heard that advice. But, as author Chris Guillebeau — who writes several hundred thousand words a year —notes:
“You may have heard the advice about carrying a notebook everywhere and writing things down as you think of them. This advice falls into the category of ‘extremely helpful tips that almost no one follows.’ Trust me, it helps: I have my notebook when I ride my bike, when I go to a restaurant, and with me on the seat of two hundred airplanes a year. Never keep anything in your head — keep it in the notebook instead.”
Is this idea “simplistic?” Maybe. But sometimes when someone describes an idea as “simplistic,” that really means “something everyone knows is a great idea — but almost nobody actually does.”
What should you use?
Liberator Online editor James W. Harris uses 3 X 5 note cards, an idea suggested to him by a prominent journalist. He writes down one idea or thought or item per card, transfers them onto his computer or elsewhere later, and then tosses them. That keeps things organized — one card doesn’t get crammed with half a dozen unrelated notes. He carries a few dozen of these ridiculously inexpensive cards (a dollar or so for 300) in his pocket at all times, held together by a small black binder clip. (Several years ago this combination was given the unfortunate name of the Hipster PDA.)
Other people swear by small wirebound notebooks.
There are e-devices and apps that are useful, too, of course. You can speak into a recording device — a stand-alone recorder, or a pad or phone.
When the perfect blog post title, a few lines of poetry, the perfect wording for a letter to the editor… whatever it is, when the right wording or the right idea comes to mind, jot it down.
Ideas have a tendency to pop into your mind at odd, unexpected moments. It’s your job to catch them. And the more you do this, the more the ideas seem to come.
It’s not just brilliant literary brainstorms that you want to record, of course. If someone says “Hey, can I have your email address?” you can dash it off and hand it to them. And vice-versa.
If you’re preparing a political meeting and you suddenly have to run to the store to pick up some essential last-minute items, jot them down — don’t rely on memory.
If you need directions, pull out your notepad. When you hear the name of a book or movie you want to check out… a great song on the radio… a new restaurant… write it down.
Get the idea?
Keep something to write on by your bed, too. Perhaps also a lighted pen.
As blogger and web developer Glen Stansberry advises:
“It almost always never fails. I’ll have a great idea, I’ll think about it for a while, and never remember it again. Why? I didn’t write it down. Half of having a good idea is actually writing it down. Writing it down gives you freedom to let your mind explore it even more, because it doesn’t have to work on actually remembering it. If paper isn’t your thing, use a voice recorder, your cell phone’s voicemail, a pda, a rock and chisel… anything so that you can file it somewhere other than your brain.”
And remember the advice of one famous writer (whose name I can’t recall — I should have written it down!): When you get a great idea, and you think, “I’ll never forget that — I’ll write it down later” — that’s the Devil speaking!