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On Keeping a Notebook in the Digital Age.

A few days ago I had a moment of sheer panic because I couldn’t find a pen. I went through the Elisabeth Kübler-Ross stages of penlessness (Denial: Maybe I don’t need a pen? I don’t need a pen! Anger: Where is my goddamned pen?! Bargaining: If you give me your pen, O nice, accommodating waiter, I’ll leave you a bigger tip) and finally got to the final stage, Acceptance: Alternatives to Pen.

I desperately needed a pen because I had an idea. And I feared that it would slip away from me before I could write it down. My ideas are very slippery and they disappear quickly, easily abetted by distraction. And so I’ve developed a routine of pulling out a notebook and writing them down before they escape, and this process is so much a part of my innate behavior at this point that missing either the pen or the notebook creates an intolerable amount of anxiety about idea loss. In this case, I resorted to my smartphone and emailed myself the note with a category heading in the subject line. And all was technically fine. But it’s not my preferred method.

The Spark File

My preferred method for idea capture is something akin to Steven Berlin Johnson’s idea of keeping a “spark file” which he’swritten about on Medium. (Johnson is a prolific and versatile writer who has covered a wide range of subjects. I would particularly recommend his bookThe Ghost Map: The Story of London’s Most Terrifying Epidemic—and How It Changed Science, Cities, and the Modern World. It’s rare that “I couldn’t put it down” can be said of a book on disease and city planning, but it’s true in this case.)

Read more at the link.