The case for NOT keeping an ideas notebook

I used to jot my ideas down in a notebook. All the time. I hoarded them. My dreams, random shower thoughts, moments of clarity, snippets of dialogue, quotes, story ideas.

When I did a professional writing degree at uni, I was taught to value a writer’s notebook. I had notebooks everywhere: beside my bed, in my bag and on my desk, ready to capture the jewels that sprang forth from my brain. I now have dozens and dozens of notebooks of all sizes in storage, from foolscap to tiny pocket-sized pads filled with jottings, subscribing to the idea that I need to capture these golden thoughts now or lose them forever.

But I have never looked at them since putting them in a storage box decades ago.

These days, other than ‘to do’ lists and shopping lists, I don’t use an ideas notebook at all, and most of the time, I use electronic tools like Google Keep and Meistertask for these lists. I have no need for a special notebook.

Say no to notebooks

And here’s why I think keeping a special notebook for ideas is not a good idea.

I’ve been caught up in Shiny New Object Syndrome (SNOS) since forever, where I hop from one project to the next without ever completing anything because the new idea is the BEST IDEA EVER. I’m sure you can relate.

It takes a lot of willpower to resist the lure of a shiny new object. I need strategies to help deal with new ideas when they spark from my brain.

And here is my number 1 strategy: I ignore them.

This has been the best thing for tackling SNOS.

Don't trust a brilliant idea uless it survives the hangover
Don’t trust a brilliant idea until it survives the hangover – Jimmy Breslin

Bad and mediocre ideas fall away. We forget them, as we should.

But the good ideas haunt us. They chase us down and tap on our shoulder when brushing our teeth or standing in a line at the supermarket or when staring out a bus window. Good ideas won’t be ignored. They won’t let us go.

Without a notebook to capture our ideas, our brain subconsciously sifts them. The chunks that remain are the good ones, if they continue to haunt us.

Stephen King agrees with me. He describes notebooks as the best way to
immortalise bad ideas.

“People will say, “do you keep a notebook?” And the answer is I think 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.”

Stephen King

When the idea for this website — The Smarter Writer — hit me, I ignored it for months. I thought it was SNOS creeping up on me. Again. But it wouldn’t leave me alone. It lured me. it called to me until I registered the domain name and wrote my first post. It was like the feeling of sweet relief that follows when there’s a tag in your clothes that annoys you but you don’t realise how annoying it was until you cut it out.

Good ideas are an irritant.

Ignore your ideas until they are so loud they won’t be ignored.

And ditch that notebook.

Over to you. Do you use an ideas notebook? Does the thought of ditching it feel as ludicrous as chopping off a thumb?

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    6 replies to "The case for NOT keeping an ideas notebook"

    • Angela

      Oh YES! Sandra, I love this. I remember you commenting on my LinkedIn posts with some wisdom around this. It’s so true. Time to ditch the ideas list and only pay attention to those annoying, nagging ideas that won’t go away. I feel the weight lifting already! 🙂

      • Sandra

        Yeah, it’s the big ideas that can turn your life upside down that I’m talking about here. Not the pesky little “Don’t forget to do X” things we all need to maintain a level of professionalism.

    • Leanne Shelton

      Ooh, I need to write my ideas down – otherwise, they attack me when I’m trying to get to sleep at night! But the true ideas take on their own form of identity at the back of my mind. So I guess I do agree with that aspect!

      • Sandra

        Well, there are the things you NEED to write down right now like ‘Make sure I double check the client’s style guide for the spelling of the product name’ in case you forget it versus “I should build a website for people who love the letter L” (and I wish someone would – it’s my favourite letter). The former I would totally jot down on a to do list. The latter? Let it go and wait for it to haunt me.

    • Jennifer Zeven

      I love this Sandra! I’ve taken Charles Bukowski’s So You Want To Be A Writer as my mantra this year:

      “…if it doesn’t come bursting out of you in spite of everything, don’t do it” . You’re so right, the strong ideas don’t need a notebook: the other stuff is just distraction.

      • Sandra

        Oooh I love that quote. It certainly puts the ideas with less lustre into perspective.

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