Write it Down

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Do you keep a journal? Do you jot down notes, make lists or sketch out ideas at random times during the day?

I’ve tried journaling many times but usually don’t stick with it. Yes, I know what the experts say, but I can never seem to get past a month or so. Needless to say, I have stacks of notebooks full of aborted attempts to keep a journal.

I’m a little more successful at keeping a little notebook handy to jot down ideas. I might not touch it for weeks and then suddenly fill pages with little snippets. Maybe, “blog post about ‘A Great Day in Harlem’” or “short story about the beach”. They act as something to jog my memory. “Oh yes, I thought about a story of a woman standing on a beach experiencing the drowning death of her son or husband on a whaling ship four thousand mile away.”  One short phrase can open up that 1000 word post I have stuffed in the back of my brain.

On the other hand, most of the ideas I’ve use for posts and stories were never copied down to one of these notebooks, I just kept them in mind until I had a chance to write them down, even if that meant a couple of days.

And most of the things I’ve written down have never been refereed to again.

I’m relatively disorganized and try to make lists of things, including creative chores. Of course I have to think about it first. Just like journaling I will go for long periods of time when I don’t use lists followed by short bursts of constant use.

In the past I’ve carried voice records while these days I have a voice recording app on my phone. I originally did it so I wouldn’t lose all of the musical ideas flowing through my head. I’d be able to sing them in and transcribe them later. Of course I can count the number of times I actually used a voice record for this purpose with the fingers on one hand and have some to spare.

Recording ideas like this was never natural.  Writing things down is completely natural, I just get busy and forget to do it.  OK, I get lazy and just don’t do it.

I find that often just writing down a word or two, even if I never refer to that scrap of paper, helps put the idea into a different part of my brain.  This goes for all forms of putting my thoughts on paper (using electrons doesn’t seem to have as strong of an effect).

OK, I just admitted how bad I am at these things, how little self-discipline I display. How about you? Do you do any better? Do you keep a journal? Do you constantly scratch notes for future reference? Make lists? How about a voice recorder or other technological answer?

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21 thoughts on “Write it Down

  1. Angela

    I’ve kept written journals since I was 15 years old, I am now 45. Some times I actually feel guilty about the amounts a paper I have plowed through in the last 30 years but I am glad I have them.

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    1. trentpmcd Post author

      Starting young might help make journaling a habit. Of course it could be that you started young because you have an organized mind. Thinking of being organized, do you keep the old journals in one spot, organized by date? Do you ever refer back to them? Mine are kind of spread around here and there

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      1. Angela

        I have them all boxed by year and kept in my home. I use spiral notebooks and on the cover they are labeled with the start date and finish date. I do refer back to them and often family members will ask me to look up past events for their own purposes, particularly stories about my Dad to share with our children who where born after he had passed away. I actually started journaling as an assignment for an English Class in High School and it just stuck with me.

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  2. Karen

    Great blog post, Trent.
    My little black notebook, a (working!) pen, smartphone, eReader for ePub, and a Kindle are mandatory for my bag.
    As you stated, I sometimes do not open this notebooks in weeks, then I start scribbling like mad. I keep my ideas, sometimes I can use them right away, sometimes months later, sometimes just not yet. I might want to use them one day.

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    1. trentpmcd Post author

      Thanks Karen! Have you ever taken an old notebook and looked up those ideas that you “might want to use … one day”? Did it spark any new ideas? That might actually be a nice way to get a spark if the idea machine in your head just isn’t working.

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      1. Karen

        This is what I do, Trent. It happens that I write something down with the feeling that the time is not yet right. When revisiting the idea in question, the spark ignites the CPU in my head – producing pretty nice stuff.

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        1. trentpmcd Post author

          That’s great. Usually when I look through old notebooks I don’t come up with any new ideas. Occasionally I will, but usually not. When I do it is usually something I had worked out but didn’t have time to write at the time.

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    1. trentpmcd Post author

      Lists and bits of paper with ideas jotted down seems to be much more common than actual journaling. Besides the attempt at journaling every couple of years, what you describe is pretty close to what I do. Of course the way you state it I’m sure you’re a bit more consistent than I am.

      Thanks for the comment and the repost.

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      1. Sourcerer

        YW!

        Keeping a journal is very difficult.

        The only thing I’ve ever been able to use a journal, in the “classic” sense of the word for, is for dreams.

        I’ve managed to keep dream journals for more than a year at a time during several periods in my life.

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        1. trentpmcd Post author

          That’s pretty cool. I keep a notepad by the side of my bed but have only used it to put down ideas I’ve had while still at least partially awake, never for dreams.

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  3. triciatallen

    I have horrible memory so I usually have to carry a notebook around. I’ve been keeping a journal for the past 8 years or so. I keep that one at home. I also have a handy-dandy notebook that I take everywhere.

    I’m most productive when I take notes, make lists and keep a dedicated journal. It clears my head and makes me feel more accountable. Take today for instance. I wrote a list of tasks I wanted to accomplish. I’m done with the main tasks and will later complete some assignments for a poetry course.

    But yeah, these are my better days. You should have seen me a few weeks ago when everything was chaos and my notebook was empty.

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    1. trentpmcd Post author

      There was a time I used to start my work day by writing everything down I needed to accomplish. I’d cross things out as I did them and add new things to list a they came up. It was really helpful to look back and answer, “What did I do this month?” At that time I did incorporate it into my creative life.

      Unfortunately it only lasted a few years.

      I think it’s great that you can keep up that type of organization. Having the main journal at home and a traveling notebook makes sense. I always have a small notebook with me even if i do ignore it most of the time.

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  4. mbarkersimpson

    I’m terribly disorganised. I don’t like making lists, and my notes are scattered across a variety of notebooks! I did, however, receive an excellent birthday gift – a giant sized wipe board that sits next to my computer and forces me to plan. It’s what I’m lacking, as a writer, the planning stages, and I’m working really hard to improve – to pin down my chaotic mind :-)

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      1. trentpmcd Post author

        You’re correct on that point. One good thing about lists is it is a reminder that you need to get busy. Constantly striving to improve ourselves is the best goal.

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        1. triciatallen

          True true :) Thankfully, I can be proud of myself today. I’m short on one poetry assignment but all in all, it’s been a day well spent.

          Have you participated in any writing workshops. The one I’m involved with now is pretty good, although it’s hard to get the one-on-one feedback since more than 3,000 folks registered. You should check out their site if you’re interested:
          http://courses.writinguniversity.org/

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    1. trentpmcd Post author

      A wipe board or white board is a good idea. I’m often away from my primary “writing” computer so it it would only keep me organized while there, but it might help.

      Other than that you sound about as organized as I am.

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