I am often asked for the one tip that I would give to writers, journalists, copywriters and, well, just about anyone who writes. My answer is always the same, whether you write for a living or for fun. Take notes. Get a notebook. Fill it. Then fill another one. And so on.
90% of what you write down will be irrelevant at best and incomprehensible at worst. Those who take notes religiously know only too well the feeling of going back through their notes and wondering just who the hell wrote them. Was it a maniac? A spider? A fool? But they also know that these books can turn up gold when you go back to them before boxing them up for posterity or to simply save space.
Note-taking is an essential for anyone who uses ideas and imagination in their day to day life. Ideas are fleeting. You have to catch them before they go. No matter how crazed they sound. Many people have multiple notebooks: one in their work bag, one on their desk, one by the sofa and one by the bed. Inspiration can strike anywhere and at any time. So you need to be ready.
Does it matter what sort of notebook you use? Well, yes and no. A 99p reporter’s pad is just as useful as a top of the range leather-bound journal when it comes to taking notes. But notebooks can impart both care and character, as author Paul Auster is only too aware. After all, you may well look after a £10 notebook better than a £1 one. You may even feel more confident taking it out in meetings or when you are out and about. But whichever works for you is fine. Something with a page marker can be great, as you can automatically go to the next blank page without a fuss.
What do I use? Well, I have boxes of different notebooks in the attic. From the cheap or giveaway to Moleskine journals.Nowadays, I keep one hardback Moleskine for meetings and away days, with smaller Moleskine paperbacks for fitting in a pocket. More importantly, I have gone electronic in the last few years.
It may sound like a cult to those who don’t use it, but I am fully committed to Evernote. I can take notes on my phone and sync them across devices, with a back up kept permanently online and offline. This means I can go back to notes at any time (without digging in the loft) and I can search my notes by key words or themes. New projects mean a new notebook, which can just sit with the rest on my phone or laptop.
I have a pro account (and I am not being paid for this), but have not yet gone as far as buying Evernote-enabled Moleskine notebooks. Although I do browse the Evernote blog every now and again, discovering gems such as how Siri can now make an Evernote note.
Try it if you have a smartphone. You have nothing to lose but your need to find a pen when you have an idea.
But whatever you do, do keep taking notes. Once you finish a notebook spend an hour or so reviewing it. There may be missed gems in there, or rejected ideas that could now have their time. I was once described as someone who is three years ahead of his time in terms of ideas, so I am always sure to go back and check once the world has caught up.
Those un-useable or out there ideas may be at the very forefront of fashion or thinking right now. It’s like having my work already done.