George Bernard Shaw supposedly claimed to have built an international reputation by thinking a mere once or twice a week, so I’ve tried to do the same. There’s not much else to do on the subway anyway.
On occasion – while thinking, an idea would appear. For the longest time, I would admire it in my mind for a moment before moving on without writing it down. The purist in me considered taking notes to be uncouth. Besides, I reasoned that a sufficiently good idea should be easily recalled. Oh how silly I was.
Invariably, I’d later remember having an idea without the faintest inkling of what the idea was. Eventually, there came a time when I remembered having a positively fantastic idea. I excitedly queried my brain only to receive Error 404: Idea not found. To this day, I have no idea what it was. Probably the cure for cancer or something.
Right then, I vowed to start writing down my ideas. But what should I write them down in? It occurred to me to carry a notebook, but my pockets were already occupied by wallet, keys, and … aha – a phone! From then on, I would record anything that I wanted to remember in my smartphone.
I quickly learned that many notable people wrote stuff down too. In Principles, Ray Dalio mentioned using his Blackberry to compensate for poor rote memory. Comedian David Sedaris said, “Everybody’s got an eye for something. The only difference is that I carry around a notebook in my front pocket. I write everything down, and it helps me recall.”
I have to make notes because a lot of my inspiration comes from meeting people or going outside the country, or going around the corner of my old neighborhood and talking to a five-year-old little boy. And I have to remember these things. I have to write them down and then five or three months later, I have to find that same emotion that I felt when I was inspired by it, so I have to dig deep to see what triggered the idea… It comes back because I have key little words that make me realize the exact emotion which drew the inspiration.
And if you have a few hours to spare, Ludvig Sunström has written extensively on the benefits of commonplacing.
Now that I’m in the habit of writing stuff down, I also record restaurant suggestions, the names of bartenders, and other details that I don’t want to forget. (Bonus effect: it shows the other person I care about them and what they told me.)
n.b. I borrowed the Sedaris and Lamar quotes from David Perell’s “How to Cure Writer’s Block“, which is an excellent read. Coincidentally, we both wrote about why write a day apart from each other last month.