Haven’t mentioned in the last article already that the computer is not my most important tool for the archive, here is one of the most important tools (besides the brain): notebooks. Not the electronic ones, but the ones made from real paper.
I have been using Moleskine Cashier Notebooks (pocket-size) for years now. Before switching to these small notebooks, I used much bigger notebooks. I hoped that bigger notebooks produced more and more significant ideas. How wrong I was!
But first: why Moleskine? They are more expensive, but then – they last almost forever, because of the superior quality. And this is what I wanted: a longer notebook life. The surface and feel are beyond everything else, and it is a joy to work with them. The pocket-size with soft covers makes them transportable, and they fit into almost any pocket. It is the quality, the brand, and the way they look and feel. And because I spent a lot more money for them, I will value them more than instead a cheap spiral-bound notepad. [Ed.: I switched to Leuchtturm 1917 Notebooks meanwhile. The Moleskin paper quality sucked when they degraded the paper to 70gr/qm and have them produced in China. ]
They come in different colours, which is what I like. I use several of them in different colours: a colour for each category. One for ideas, one for the act, one for problems to be solved, etc. so it is easier to grab the right notebook (and also more beautiful looking on the desk).
When later working with the Gene Anderson A-B-C list system, then each trick from the A-list could even have its little notebook. The trick is on the A-list is worth having a small notebook on its own! Maybe you will end up having ten notebooks if your act comprises these ten tricks, but then you have it all in one place and – more important – the trick will ‘live’. It is more fun to do the work of keeping a trick up to date when you have a notebook and see how it fills with improvements and further ideas. It is like having a diary of a trick. Or documentation of the evolution of a trick.
A Few Tips on Note-taking
There are dozens of informative websites and blogs on how to take notes, and I am sure you have your system already. For those who have not, here is my way. Instead of having you check out all of them on the internet and waste time, here my summary and shortcuts that should get you started:
One notebook – one category/topic/trick
I leave the first page blank at the beginning of a new notebook. When it fills, this is the place to put in a title, short description of the content and a brief table of contents. That way, it is easy to navigate the notebooks later.
Each entry has at the top of the first page the date and some tags.
Scribbling and drawing are allowed and even desired. Lousy handwriting might be an obstacle years later in trying to identify what I have written. It doesn’t matter how crude the scribblings are – only you will see them.
Use Post-it notes and bookmarks for easier orientation and flexibility. The Post-it can be removed, moved, and discarded and expanded. I can shift them from topic to topic. There is always the possibility to make them ‘steady’ and transferring the content into the notebook later. Post-it notes and the bookmarks are some of my most valuable tools (along with the notebooks themselves).
Use colour. Text markers, coloured pencils and felt-tip pens, and so on. The more colour, the better. The brain likes colours.
No need to go into the details here. Prof. Richard Wiseman has done the scientific work for us already in his book ’59 Seconds’, where he touches this topic (and, as the book title promises, it takes only two minutes to learn it).
The reason I take new ideas in handwriting is to speed up the process of their integration into my brain. While writing, I already wrestle the idea, and much of the creative process starts with the writing by itself. A big time saver!
It is a proven fact that writing or drawing by hand is much more efficient than just typing something into the computer. Therefore, my main work is done by hand within the notebooks. I do eighty percent of my relevant work this way. Always.
I see it this way: in the computer, all the fantastic ideas and information are invisible, hidden somewhere in files that hide in the filesystem. These ideas exist as a digital file, for sure, but I cannot see them as a drop of water in the ocean.
However, in the notebooks, the simple flipping through the pages makes the ideas visible within a fraction of a second. The information has come to life and can be read, touched, and looked at.
Why the smaller format of the notebooks?
The reason (besides being practical) is brevity. As we all know: ‘Brevity is the soul of wit.’ How true! A super way to get used to shortness when taking notes is to reduce the writing space! So simple and so effective. Therefore, the smaller format.
Take advantage of a significant productivity hack: Parkinson’s Law. Parkinson’s Law states that work will expand to fill the time available for its completion. If you have less time to complete a task, you’ll increase your effort. In our case: note-taking will be much more comfortable and practical if the space permitted for notes is smaller, not allowing those notes to ‘expand’.
The second point: it will save you time. Filling a small page is quicker than trying to fill a page four times the size.
The third point: there is less resistance in writing something into it, which is the most important thing to do with a notebook.
Now what to do with all that for your archive? The most dangerous enemy lurking here at the start is intimidation. You look at all the files others have and think: “I will never have this. It will take ages, so where should I start?”
Put these questions and self-doubts into the trash can. Start the easy way and don’t give a thought on what archives others have or do not have. Think only for your little archive, the most important one in the world. Get three Moleskine for the beginning. Start small. Use the first three categories, one notebook for each topic:
Knowledge: jot down routines, tricks, systems, procedures, and what else is exciting and essential for you to know and for your act.
Props: take notes on which accessories you are interested in and jot down the ideas you might have for changing them, making them personal for your act. Make a list of the props you might want to have. Draw. Scribble. Colourized. Invent. Think and then design the ‘hardware’.
Ability: think about necessary sleights and techniques you will use or must be able to execute. Rethink your tricks and search for where techniques are applied or necessary. Research these techniques you need to do your tricks. Find better ways, jot them down. Note what you have to practise or learn. Start thinking this notebook as a to-do list.
Later you can add more notebooks: gags, patter, presentation, routines, tricks, specialities, whatever. But right now start with just the three. If you have more in the beginning, then chances are you get involved too much into preparing empty notebooks and wasting your time with thinking about perfect organisation systems and topics. Stay calm and dare to start with just three. We can make a daunting task into pleasure and fun with a small first step. Three little notebooks, small as they are, serve the purpose and even will make you feel like a ‘conqueror’, will make you feel like a winner. That is what we want.
It will surprise you how much valuable information you will store within the next few days. Work is done! You are on the way because you have started your archive with three little notebooks. That wasn’t too difficult.
For me, this system works because the focus is on that few notebooks and not on the vast amount of information is on my computer (which at some times makes me feel helpless and uninformed). As already said, for me, the computer is only the place to store and research the information I might need in writing my ideas into my notebooks.
Conventions and Lectures
Once you got started with entering your ideas and stuff into these notebooks, they can (even in this embryo state) be already useful for your next attendance of a lecture or convention. Just have the notebooks with you and when you see some magic, think of your notebooks, test whether the new information could be useful for you and if so, put it into your notebooks. The books act as a guide for you.
That way, they prepare you to squeeze all the relevant information tailored to you out of the event. The notebooks help you stay focused on your stuff — no more distractions.
And that is the whole secret behind the secret!