Did you know the best tool for a creative is an idea journal?
I remember the times I didn’t have one. I used to write my ideas somewhere on my phone, on a random post-it, or an untitled document on my PC.
The probabilities of me checking again that idea were infinite. The post-it could get lost, I rarely checked untitled documents, and my phone was always a mess.
Having a journal dedicated to containing ideas is a different story. If you check it, you want to read your ideas, and when an idea flashes through your mind, it becomes the perfect safe spot where to write.
When I decided to use an idea journal, I had to deal with the 21st century’s dilemma: analog or digital?
I have to admit for the first two years I used my phone as an idea diary. I downloaded some apps where I wrote all my thoughts. Still, I always had a problem with consistency, and I love to try new things, so I ended up having my creativity split among three different apps.
That was the moment I turned to the analog system, and since then, three months ago, I experienced the most productive period of my entire life.
I found out having a paper journal is much better than a digital one. If you lose it, you won’t have a backup, but the creative boost that comes from writing on paper is unimaginable. Also, you can always take a photo every time you complete a page in your journal and upload it on the cloud. In this way, even if you lose your most precious belonging, you will always have a copy online.
Studies on the Creative Process
The fact is an idea journal is an indispensable tool for a creative, especially for people who write a lot. It gives you a complete view of the shape of your thoughts; it makes you keep in touch with writing on paper, and it allows you to never miss on a genial idea again.
A recent study, led by Frontiers in Psychology, discovered that some brain regions are more active when people complete a task by hand, and not on a keyboard. Those regions relate not only to the learning process but also to creativity.
If you think about it, when you write something on paper, you remember it better. This is the first method of studying we all use at the beginning of our school record.
Other studies, led by Pam A. Muller and Daniel M. Oppenheimer, proved that writing on paper is much better than writing on a keyboard. It seems like the act of writing stimulates the cognitive part of the brain, forcing it to work for us.
Think about having a brainstorming session. Do you write your thoughts on your laptop?
Brainstorming is a powerful technique to generate new ideas, but you will never use a digital medium. On the contrary, the results will be much better if you use a piece of paper or a blackboard. This is because writing things on paper allows you to connect with the words you write and develop new words from them. Words recall similar or opposite words until your idea becomes concrete.
A Flock of Migratory Birds
Think about the ideas flowing as a flock of migratory birds passing over your home and stopping in your garden to take a break. You can see their colorful feathering and their unique beaks. They are staring at you, and you are staring at them, amazed. But you don’t have a camera with you, so you miss them.
You don’t know if they will ever pass again over your home, or if you will look out of the window at the exact moment they stop in your garden. You will probably never see them again.
The same thing happens with unique ideas. They pass through your mind, but if you don’t note them instantly, you may forget them. Also, you will never live the experience that brought you to that idea, or at least not in that fascinating way. And if you will originate the same idea again, it probably will not be so special anymore.
For this reason, always keep an idea journal with you, so as soon as you get a new idea, you can write it straight away. This will bring you many advantages since you will write in an emotive state, and in the same spot where the idea originated. You can fill it with an accurate representation of your emotions and your situation in its entirety.
Sometimes, at first sight, you could miss their uniqueness, and only later understand their rarity. For this reason, take photos of every flock of birds stopping in your garden. Someday you could discover they were interesting, perhaps because of their flight organization, or their unique courtship rituals.
Ideas work the same way. Even if they may seem unimportant today, they could gain some importance tomorrow.
Concepts change, lines of thinking change, and lately, people change too.
The Idea Journal is an Idea Generator
Besides being a safe place to note your ideas, an idea journal will also help you keep an overview of those ideas, which can become an amazing resource to use.
If you can read your ideas at once, or maybe skim through some of them randomly, some fresh ideas will generate from the aged ones. The mixture of two remote thoughts, freshened by recent concepts you assimilated in the last days, can make a unique idea surface. Or you can observe how ideas contrast so much that it becomes their antithesis and do some reasoning on that.
The easier way to generate an idea is to make two or more concepts, semantically distant, focus on the same goal.
Perhaps making them fight one against each other, or creating a mental third path to join them. At last, the core of original ideas is nothing more than a path between two unfamiliar worlds that nobody connected before.
How to Set your Idea Journal
I hope I convinced you to adopt an idea journal. But how could you set yours?
Since the journal will be a personal notebook, you can set your idea journal as you wish.
You can use a digital one or an analog one. You can write in a squared notebook, or on a ruled one. The important thing is to make use of it.
To keep my thoughts safe, I bought a medium 15x20cm notebook, and it feels amazing. Since I am a prolific writer, when I write it is hard to stop me, so I choose this version over the little one, but it is up to you.
I also number my ideas, and I try to write at least three per day on workdays, while I take a pause on weekends, and write only if I am inspired. In those two days, I focus more on reading my journal, to gain an overview of my thought’s evolution.
Many times, when I read, my mind tries to beautify the past ideas with concepts I absorbed recently. So I write them again from another perspective.
I have to confess: since I started an idea journal, I never ran out of ideas. My creativity cycle is always active, and my ideas never stop coming.
If you desire to try, the first week or two will be harsh, especially if you want to originate more ideas per day. Still, after a while, it will become not only a pleasurable habit but also an amazing resource for a writer.
This is the best tool for a creative: the idea journal.
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Cover photo by Aaron Burden on Unsplash.