Photo by Ali Yahya on Unsplash

When I was a kid, I “borrowed” a voice recorder my grandpa had. This one still needed a full-sized cassette tape to work, and about 4 AA batteries. I used to tell stories and do “interviews”.

It was big and clunky and I think it died when I dropped it after climbing to the rooftop of the house.

After that, I graduated to a brand new state of the art recorder that accepted mini-cassette tapes. I kept it in the glove compartment of my car. My best ideas used to come to me when driving, cause traffic has a way of spacing you out and inadvertently getting you into The Flow (before the era of the smartphone, naturally).

The device had a huge downside, though. After months of consistently dictating terrible ideas and even worse celebrity impressions into it, it would take forever to rewind and fast-forward to the exact memo I was looking for. Half the time I’d forget what I’d recorded in the first place, so only a complete end to end listening session of the entire cassette would refresh my memory.

As with everything that slightly annoys me, I dropped the recording habit wholesale.

And I bought a notebook, and a green pen.

The notebook had an illustration of a white goose on the cover. I decided his name was Mr. Kissinger and that’s how I referred to it for years.

This all happened before the meteoric rise of the smartphone. Mr. Kissinger was the only repository for ideas that I had come up with that actually worked for me. Stop car, write idea, continue journey.

Smartphones became a thing a few years later, and I have been burning through “Best Of…” productivity app lists like it was my job.

There was always a new app to try. A new way of using an old app that promised results. A new set of “life hacks” that guaranteed to fix your life for only $14.99 a month. I pay less for Netflix, and they won’t judge my procrastinating ass (yes I’m still watching, put my fucking show back on).

I tried a lot of apps. Always suckered in by the siren song of “THIS is the one!” The app that will help me remember things and fix my productivity and call my mom! It does everything!

Needless to say, the only app that actually calls my mom is FaceTime, and it generally doesn’t do it on its own.

I’ve wasted a decade trying to blame my lack of output on two things: Not finding the right app, and believing to have found it and that I’m just not smart enough to leverage its full power (I’m looking at you Evernote).

Then something happened last week.

So I’m writing a book about Satan. That’s neither here nor there though. The thing is I’ve been trying to come up with the outline of what the story is going to be like. I’ve used Scrivener before to create my outlines, and it does a perfectly acceptable job. But I discovered I need to make my outlines more robust.

Basically what I’m saying is, I discovered that to finish my book, I need to first write the whole thing out like if I was five years old and I was telling a story to my parents.

“And then the general came up to the stairs of the palace, right? And she’s all bloodied from the battle, but Lucifer doesn’t know she’s been fighting alongside him cause he was busy, right? So she comes up, and then…”

I had this epiphany while riding the metro to work, and I knew exactly what was supposed to happen in Chapter 1. So I reached into my backpack and took out an old Moleskine notebook I’ve been carrying around for years, reached for my pen, and I went nuts.

And it felt great.

I code for a living. So most of my day is spent typing on a keyboard. I enjoy it. The sound of the keys is soothing to me. But there’s a big drawback I hadn’t considered before, and that’s the Backspace key.

See, to me, it feels like making a typo and going back to correct it, breaks The Flow, if minimally. One moment you’re on fire and the next you’re looking up the correct spelling to “rhythm” because that squiggly red line is judging you so hard you’re unable to concentrate.

My notebook doesn’t care. There are no squiggly lines, and to be honest, my handwriting is so egregious that you can hardly make out how I even spelled most words anyway. Is that an m or a u? Who knows! That’s half the fun!

So writing on a notebook may be slower, but it keeps me focused. There are no micro-interruptions from spellcheck, or a rogue update that needs to be installed RIGHT THE FUCK NOW or later, whatever, your call. When something doesn’t work, you just scratch that right out and keep writing. Did you suddenly have a new idea that doesn't particularly relate to what you’re writing? Flip the page, add a large title that explains what you’re writing about, make the note, and then go back to what you were doing.

Find another page. Write some more. Outline, draw, sketch. Angrily cross out a word. Write FUCK THIS on the sidebar. SLAM the notebook shut when you’re done cause there really is no better sound than that dry slap of pages.

I’ve been doing this for a week. Now I run away from apps that promise I’ll be productive after I give them my email address and access to my cloud. I’m up to three chapters on my book, and halfway through the second draft of the first volume of my graphic novel.

I’m filling out pages of good ideas, bad ideas, terrible handwriting, and little sketches that prompt the reader to check the next page for additional context.

I can feel how it’s dragging me effortlessly into the ever elusive Flow of creativity. And it is addictive.

Notebooks, man.

Who knew?

“In 2014, a few years before the war, Jack moved to Paris to write and drink wine. He died during the invasion when he refused to leave Paris without his dog.”

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