Didn’t I mention in the last article that the computer is not my most important tool for archiving, here is one of the most important tools (besides the brain): notebooks. Not the electronic kind, but the real paper kind.
I have been using Moleskine Cashier Notebooks (pocket size) for years. Before I switched to these small notebooks, I used much larger notebooks. I hoped that bigger notebooks would produce more and more important 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 that was what I wanted: a longer life for my notebook. The finish and feel is beyond anything else, and it is a pleasure to work with. The pocket size with soft covers makes them portable and they fit in almost any bag. It is the quality, the brand and the way they look and feel. And because I spent a lot more money on them, I will treasure them more than a cheap spiral-bound notepad. [I have since switched to Leuchtturm 1917 notebooks. The Moleskin paper quality sucked when they dropped the paper to 70gr/qm and had it made in China. ]
They come in different colours, which I like. I use several in different colours: one for each category. One for ideas, one for action, one for problems to solve, etc. This makes it easier to find the right notebook (and it looks nicer on the desk).
Later, when working with the Gene Anderson A‑B-C list system, each trick from the A list could even have its own little notebook. The trick on the A‑list is worth a notebook in itself! You might end up with ten notebooks if your act includes those ten tricks, but then you have them all in one place and — more importantly — 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 it filling up with improvements and more ideas. It is like having a diary of a trick. Or documenting the evolution of a trick.
A few tips on note-taking
There are dozens of informative websites and blogs about note-taking, and I am sure you already have your system. For those who do not, here is my way. Rather than have you scour the internet and waste time, here is my summary and shortcuts that should get you started:
One notebook — one category/topic/trick
When I start a new notebook, I leave the first page blank. When it fills up, this is the place to add a title, a short description of the content and a short table of contents. This makes it easy to navigate through the notebooks later.
At the top of the first page, each entry will have the date and some tags.
Doodles and drawings are allowed and even encouraged. Poor handwriting can be a hindrance years later when trying to identify what I wrote. It doesn’t matter how crude the scribbles are — only you will see them.
Use Post-it notes and bookmarks for easier orientation and flexibility. The Post-it can be removed, moved, discarded and expanded. I can move them from topic to topic. There is always the possibility of making them ‘permanent’ and transferring the content to the notebook later. Post-its and bookmarks are some of my most valuable tools (along with the notebooks themselves).
Use colour. Text markers, coloured pencils, felt pens and so on. The more colour the better. The brain likes colour.
No need to go into detail here. Prof Richard Wiseman has already done the scientific work for us in his book ’59 Seconds’, where he touches on this subject (and as the book title promises, it only takes two minutes to learn).
The reason I handwrite new ideas is to speed up the process of integrating them into my brain. As I write, I am already wrestling with the idea, and much of the creative process begins with the writing itself. A huge time saver!
It is a proven fact that writing or drawing by hand is much more efficient than typing into a computer. So most of my work is done by hand in the notebooks. Eighty per cent of my relevant work is done this way. All the time.
The way I see it, in the computer, all the fantastic ideas and information are invisible, hidden somewhere in files that are hidden in the file system. Those ideas exist as a digital file, but I cannot see them like a drop of water in the ocean.
In the notebooks, however, the simple act of flipping through the pages makes the ideas visible in a fraction of a second. The information has come to life and can be read, touched and looked at.
Why the smaller notebooks?
The reason (apart from practicality) is brevity. As we all know, ‘brevity is the soul of wit’. How true! A great way to get used to brevity in note-taking is to reduce the amount of writing space! So simple and effective. Hence the smaller format.
Take advantage of a major productivity hack: Parkinson’s Law. Parkinson’s Law states that work expands to fill the time available to complete it. If you have less time to complete a task, you’ll increase your effort. In our case, note-taking will be much more convenient and practical if the space allotted for notes is smaller and does not allow those notes to ‘expand’.
The second point is that you save time. Filling a small page is quicker than trying to fill a page four times the size.
Thirdly, there is less resistance to writing, which is the most important thing in a notebook.
So what do you do with all this for your archive? The most dangerous enemy lurking at the beginning is intimidation. You look at all the files other people have and think: “I’ll never have that. It will take forever, so where do I start?”
Put those questions and self-doubts in the bin. Start the easy way and don’t think about what archives others have or don’t have. Think only of your little archive, the most important in the world. Get three Moleskines to start. Start small. Use the first three categories, one notebook for each topic:
Knowledge: Write down routines, tricks, systems, procedures and anything else that is exciting and important for you to know and for your act.
Props: make a note of the props you are interested in and any ideas you might have to modify them to make them more personal to your act. Make a list of the props you would like to have. Draw. Scribble. Colour. Invent. Think and then design the ‘hardware’.
Skill: Think about the necessary tricks and techniques you will use or need to be able to perform. Rethink your tricks and look for where techniques are used or needed. Research the techniques you need to do your tricks. Find better ways, write them down. Write down what you need to practise or learn. Think of this notebook as a to-do list.
Later you can add more notebooks: gags, patter, presentation, routines, tricks, specials, whatever. But for now, just start with the three. If you have more at the beginning, you will probably get too involved in preparing empty notebooks and waste your time thinking about perfect organisation systems and topics. Stay calm and dare to start with just three. We can make a daunting task fun and enjoyable by taking a small first step. Three little notebooks, small as they are, will get the job done and even make you feel like a ‘conqueror’, a winner. That is what we want.
You will be surprised how much valuable information you will store in the next few days. The work is done! You are on your way because you started your archive with three little notebooks. It wasn’t too difficult.
For me, this system works because the focus is on these few notebooks and not on the vast amount of information on my computer (which sometimes makes me feel helpless and uninformed). As I said, for me the computer is just a place to store and research the information I might need to write my ideas in my notebooks.
Conventions and lectures
Once you have started putting your ideas and stuff into these notebooks, they can be useful (even in this embryonic state) when you next attend 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 to you, and if so, add it to your notebooks. The books act as a guide for you.
They will prepare you to get all the relevant information you need from the event. The notebooks will help you focus on your material — no more distractions.
And that is the secret behind the secret!