I have a lousy short-term memory. So, throughout my adult life I’ve been in the habit of writing notes and lists. I’d be lost without them – sometimes quite literally. With them, I can sleep at night.
These notes and lists control my life – telling me what to do, where to go, when to be there and who I’ve arranged to meet or phone (at which point I can normally figure out the ‘why’ all on my own from context). My list collection has grown exponentially since becoming self-employed, with new titles like ‘potential clients’, ‘things I need to buy for the business but can’t afford’ and ‘what I’m going to do with my first million’ being added to the pile everyday. I have reluctantly embraced the world of spread sheets.
So far, so nothing out of the ordinary.
More important than all the little bits of paper listed above (except possibly from HMCR’s point of view) is a scruffy little notebook into which I scrawl pretty much any passing thought with the barest potential. This might be an observation – last week I was people-watching, buggy-pushing, photographing and keeping an eye on the kids simultaneously when I noticed that my people were people-watching me back with great amusement. I liked this and made a wee note as soon as we were well away from the cliff. It might be a word or phrase I like the sound of – ‘a clowder of cats (amongst the pigeons?)’ is a current favourite, or just a random idea.
But here’s the thing – jotting down thoughts and ideas when I’m working or with my family is one thing. I just can’t picture myself , however, out enjoying lunch with old friends or having drinks in my local, taking it all in (and relaxing with a bit of friendly banter is exactly when ideas and imagery tend to pop into my head)… then whipping out a notepad and excusing myself for a wee minute.
Quite apart from interrupting the flow, being a bit bloody rude (not to mention pretentious) and possibly making folk a tad wary around me, my worry is that I might start feeling like an observer, not in the thick of things.
On the other hand, if I don’t scribble some reminder down, I will either lose the thought forever, or spend the rest of the lunch eyes glazed over ‘pinging’ it back and forth in my head.
Having puzzled over this for a while, I sought advice from an online writers’ groups I’ve joined. It turns out it’s a recurring theme, and advice ranged from less intrusive methods of note taking, to memory improving tips (focus on speech patterns and textural details) to just letting it all hang out note-taking-wise (‘I have a Dictaphone and I’m not afraid to use it’).
All nice in theory. (And I am definitely going to work on some memory exercises).
A couple of days ago I had a chance to put theory into practice. I was blethering with a new friend and she came out with an unexpected, funny – if a little bit off-colour – twist on an old theme, which I knew would be perfect to use as, um, an unexpected, funny – if a little bit off-colour twist in a future blog post. It was too much to resist.
‘I’m so sorry’ I said, to her amused amazement, ‘I’m just going to have to pop over to my bag for my notepad – I have to write that down’.
This, however, will be the exception to the rule – strictly when need’s must. I have decided note-taking is something that I want to keep to a bare minimum in company. I don’t want to be a writer; I want to be someone with stuff worth writing about.