Inspiration has a rascally sense of humor. There’s the sudden rush of a great idea. The solution to a tricky problem becomes clear. Key memories surface. It illuminates the world like lightning, leaves you breathless and excited, and fills you with an almost physical urge to share. Now if only you were near a computer. Or a pen. Or anything to help you capture this insight before it flies a way!
Dozens of authors have lamented to me that their revelations never happen in the office or at home; they pop up in the check out line for the grocery store, sitting in traffic, or a dozen other inconvenient places. By the time the person gets to a desk, the inspiration is gone.
What can an author do to capture a brainwave before it fades? One or two simple, convenient tools can help you net your inspirations as soon as they occur, and keep them safe until you are ready to write in earnest.
First find your notebook. Marie Kondo, sage of the clutter-free life, advises keeping only things that “spark joy.” The same principle holds for creative tools. Chances are, if you grab any old notebook to schlep, it will bounce around unremembered in the bottom of a bag until it falls apart unused. If, instead, you choose something that gives you pleasure, you’ll look for reasons to use it. Find something with a cover that delights your eye or makes you smile, a weight that feels good in your hands, and paper that your fingers want to touch.
I love Moleskines—they’re clean, lightweight, and stylish. They have stash pockets in the front. They come with lines, grids, or blank pages. This model is my go to, but I also keep tiny ones for my dress handbags, and square ones for my art projects. I carry a Moleskine almost everywhere I go, and each time I hold it, there’s a surge of simple gratification. I can’t wait to write something. When notebook that gives you that feeling, you’ll start to seek opportunities to use it.
Then pick the pen. I have a plenitude of pens. Piles of pens. Pens for every predicament. I’ve got dozens of freebie ballpoints from business contacts, retractables rolling around in the bottoms of drawers, and half a dozen “presentation” models—gifts from milestone moments. Most of these I never use, because I’m in a loving, monogamous relationship with fine-tip felts.
I like the way letters form when I use a felt tip. The ink flows smoothly, but it doesn’t smear (which matters a lot when you’re a lefty). The weight feels right. When I come back to it, I can actually read what I’ve written. I’m not married to a particular brand or color; I just know what style suits me best, and I keep plenty of them around. I go out of my way to find them.
Do you know what writing utensil works best for you? Or are you still gritting your teeth and scratching out notes with whatever you can find? Some pen styles seem to resist all efforts to put words on a page. They fight you at every stroke. Others become a natural, fluid extension of your own hand. Using them feels good. Find an ink type and tip style that lets you make the kinds of lines you like to see, housed in a barrel like a well-balanced sword. That’s your pen. It doesn’t take a $100 plus investment on a high end Lamy or Mont Blanc (hey, no judgment if that’s what gets it for you). Chances are, someone makes it in a comfortable price range. Stock up.
Or talk it out. Sometimes it’s just easier to dictate. Lots of my authors have felt that they express themselves best out loud. The brain moves faster than the fingers, and trying to get it all down gets discouraging. And while they know their smartphones usually have dictation apps, they don’t use them. The feature requires so many steps to access that they get distracted or confused. Then the idea they wanted to record fades away. Even if they do manage to capture a recording, they can’t find or transfer the file when they want to use it.
That’s why I love digital recorders. Small enough to fit in a pocket or a purse, many models can hold hours of recorded material. A cheap unit like the Sony ICD-BX140 works for capturing short bursts that can be easily transcribed at your convenience.
More advanced models have a USB port for transferring audio files to a computer. Trust me, it’s tedious to type out any recording longer than 2-3 minutes. If you want to think out loud for half an hour, spring for something that can talk to your other devices. A model with a simple, one-touch interface is an excellent listener. You can send the recording out to a transcription service (and, yes, that’s worth every penny.) I’ve got both a bare bones Sony recorder and a more advanced Yulass device (which, sadly, they don’t make anymore), and I keep them both handy.
Whether tactile or virtual, there is real value in making it a conscious choice. So many people cheat their own creativity by making do. They tell themselves that they can’t justify the effort or expense of finding their perfect creative tools. They chide themselves for being silly or self-indulgent about something as trivial as pens and paper. Then they wonder why they can’t motivate themselves to write. They lose all their best insights to the distractions of the day.
Investing in tools that make capturing my ideas fun has revolutionized my own process. I love using my Moleskines, my felt tips, and my recorder. So I keep them close at hand, and I actively pursue things to write down or record—even things that seem insignificant or worthless. I think more. I scribble more notes. Reviewing these, I often discover great potential in a small thought I had initially dismissed. And, as I tell my authors, if Inspiration pounces while I’m in the bathtub or on the treadmill, she won’t be getting the last laugh.