Notebooking: What Is it and Why Do So Many Famous People Do It?

Many years ago, I began chronicling my thoughts within the pages of a notebook. I had suffered the greatest loss a parent could imagine, the sudden death of my 16-year-old son to bacterial meningitis.

On the outside, I looked brave, and strong, all together. Within the secret pages of my notebook was the true story; the story of the incredible struggle to wake up in the morning, to go on with life, to be alive for my living children.

Through time, my notebook became so much more.

It held the key to my survival, and ultimately my success. It helped me see the path to restore my broken life, not only by documenting my feelings, but inspiration from meditation, ideas from listening to others, and creative thoughts that rose above the darkest moments of sorrow.

I used it as an organizational tool to hold my life together. I had lists of things I needed to do, and friends I could call upon when I needed more than I could emotionally handle. I drafted a garden design that I later planted in honor of my son. And, while sitting in the garden, I’d sketch feelings into pictures, and emotions into poetry.

And I’m not the only one…

In researching, I learned that some of the greatest minds in history had used notebooks to record their thoughts in between reality and innovation… it’s a place where creative ideas are recorded and planted to come alive.

Wouldn’t you love to see within the pages of these famous notebooks: Ernest Hemingway, Marie Curie, Leonardo Da Vinci, Albert Einstein, Madeleine L’Engle, or Van Gogh. Pablo Picasso used his pocket notebooks for sketches that were the first inspirations for his paintings. Here’s an article that share’s some of those actual pages: Pocket Notebooks of 20 Famous Men

And in modern-day…

  • Larry David “is particularly devoted to this practice. He always keeps a small notebook in his breast pocket. When he worked on Seinfeld, he would scour his notebook for ideas for the show…” Brett & Kate McKay
  • George Lucas keeps a pocket notebook with him at all times.
  • Oprah has written her dreams down in a notebook her whole life.
  • Lady Gaga takes her notebook on tour and uses it for her thoughts, songs, and dreams.

You want to write, you need to keep an honest, unpublishable journal that nobody reads, nobody but you.

Madeleine L’Engle

Some of my best ideas were seeds planted within the pages of my notebook.
As I continued to heal, I wrote about my intention to write a book to share my story so that other suffering parents would not feel so alone.

That first notebook and the dozens that followed became a resource for so much more than I ever imagined. It made a huge difference in the direction of my life. I attribute my personal and successful life to my commitment to notebooking.

I had survived… I had proof right there within the pages. I became a new person in the process. I felt strong and capable. It helped me stay organized and consciously present as I began the next chapter of my life.

Recording my thoughts was my GPS, guiding me as to what to do next, even when I was in the fog of grief. My thoughts were ever-present. I just had to write them down and listen. I survived because of my notebook. I know that’s a bold statement, but people who suffer trauma such as loss look for lifelines to hold onto, that guide them through the torrential storm of sorrow.

As its usefulness and effectiveness expanded in my personal and business life, I realized it was a strategy often overlooked.

Whether you call it a “journal” or a “pocket notebook,” either way, it’s a game-changing strategy, and there’s plenty of history to prove it. It’s so much more than a journal or diary. It’s where your life unfolds into the next great version of yourself.

The sweet spot between reality and possibility

But there’s a secret to making your notebooking successful. It’s not about recording the happenings of the day as in a diary; it is the sweet spot between reality and possibility.

The miracle of writing is that it awakens the subconscious mind and allows a real and powerful connection between your thoughts and your reality. When thoughts fly out of your brain, through the pen and onto paper, those are the thoughts where you say, where the heck did that come from?

In an article by Michael d’Estries about famous notebook-keeping visionaries, it describes Thomas Edison as a “prolific note-taker, leaving behind more than 5 million pages at the time of his death in 1931. The notebooks, roughly 6×9 inches and averaging 285 pages each, record in minute detail everything from his business dealings to ideas for future inventions and patents.”

In 2009, I made a stronger commitment to writing. I started keeping a notebook in my purse, one by my bed, and one at my desk.

It was my safe place to let my thoughts fly to places I had not dared before. It also housed my deepest sorrows and the steps I took to recover my strength after my son died. When you write, you leave the words on the page and your experiences become your history… transformation is your future.

“The blue-backed notebooks, the two pencils and the pencil sharpener ( a pocket knife was too wasteful), the marble-topped tables, the smell of cafe cremes, the smell of early morning sweeping out and mopping and luck were all you needed.” –Ernest Hemingway, The Moveable Feast

Soon, I began looking through my past notebooks as a resource for writing articles. I used them for developing new ways to enhance my business. I added prayers, affirmations, sketches, poetry. I filled up notebook after notebook of the “new me” that emerged every day from my subconscious, scratched emotionally onto lined pages with a pen.

Don’t lose your brilliant thoughts… capture them
I can’t believe how many thoughts I lost before I began this practice. As humans, we have thousands of thoughts a day, and some of the most brilliant of those pass us by, forgotten in the blink of an eye. Think about the opportunities, creative endeavors, or insights that vanish, unremembered.

Becoming a “notebooker” changes that… except, it still happens to me in the shower or at my gym class. I’m thinking of a whiteboard in the shower…really!

Why use a notebook instead of a laptop? Aren’t the words coming from the same mind?

  • Emotional Discovery: Have you ever noticed your handwriting changes from day today? Sometimes it’s bigger and bolder, other times it’s small and almost retreats from the page. This is the expression of emotion that is visible on the written page. When I look at my past notebooks, I can see where I felt confident, happy, optimistic, all because of the strokes of my letters. I can also see where I felt disorganized, sloppy, even sad. It’s all there on the written page.
  • Time: Think about the amount of time it takes to boot up a computer. Takes forever, doesn’t it? In that amount of time, your thoughts get distracted and you forget the original gem you were about to write down.
  • It’s symbolic: The notebook is made of paper and started from a seed that grew a tree. I like to think of my thoughts as seedlings ready to burst. That’s why I call my notebook my Idea Garden.
  • Convenience: They can fit anywhere… a pocket, a purse, a backpack. They don’t need wifi or a charger so you can take them hiking, to the beach, or anywhere in the world.

Reading your notes out loud launches them into your present reality
When I read my pages aloud, it launches them into the emotional forefront. You can’t stop thinking about them, and your mind gets to work, showing you ways to implement strategies that bring ideas and goals to fruition. Ask George Lucas, Lady Gaga, or Steve Jobs.

Bob Proctor, who teaches the Secret Behind the Law of Attraction says, “Thoughts which are mixed with feeling or emotion constitute a magnetic force. So to attract what you want, your thoughts must be accompanied by deep feeling and desire.”

How do you infuse them deep feeling and desire?
You use the imagination you were born with. Didn’t you play “make-believe” as a child? Didn’t it feel real? That’s exactly how you imagine your dreams and goals… with every emotion and sensation in your body and mind.

The best way to predict the future is to invent it.

Alan Kay is a Ted Talker and American Computer Scientist.

Because of that consistent attention to my dreams, I finally committed to writing the book I said I would write someday. It’s my son’s book, really. Without his life… and his death… it wouldn’t have been written.

Almost a year to the day that I set the goal in writing in my notebook, I held a published copy in my hands. I held it with the same awe that I first held my son when he was born. What a miracle to bring him into this world and to honor him in his death. (How To Survive the Worst that Can Happen, a parent’s step-by-step guide to healing after the loss of a child.)

My passion continued. I wrote down another goal; I wanted to have my articles featured in the Huffington Post. I almost gave up. I doubted myself, and my abilities. I even cried a few times after rejection.

I realized I had to improve as a writer. I studied the HuffPost platform and read successful articles from other people. I consistently worked on developing my writing and honing my submissions.

It finally happened in the fall of 2016. I submitted one on their platform and bam! My article was published and promoted. And 6 more in the weeks that followed.

Make room for your thoughts to grow bigger than you’re capable of dreaming!
Oprah said she could never have imagined big enough to envision the life she has today, but she took it one step at a time. She always stayed true to her purpose, making a difference in people’s lives. And then, she would take the next step and the next. Many of her ideas came through her commitment to keeping a journal.

As you commit to writing daily, you’ll discover a love, actually a passion, for sitting down with your notebook. It’s an old friend, a familiar place to park your life and your future. It will bring you happiness; I’m sure of it.

How do you “notebook?”
Purchase a notebook… or three. Put them where you will use them-one at your desk, one by your nightstand, and one in your bag.

I prefer wire bound with firm covers (6″x8″ is portable but still able to hold a lot of notes). That way I can bend them back for a stronger writing surface if I’m not at a desk. I buy a half dozen at a time, all with different covers. You can also dive back into history and use the black and white composition notebooks.

I switch from pens to pencils, to felt pens, gel pens…depending on my mood. My current favorite is the Blackwing Pencil (if you’ve never written with these, you’re missing out, but you’ll need to have a sharpener close by).

Sit quietly and listen to yourself breathe, quieting your mind.

Pick up your pen and start writing continuously for 10 minutes. I usually start with some thoughts like:

  • “I had a great day today, and here’s why…”
  • “I’m frustrated because I can’t get a handle on my next creative project…”
  • “I was disappointed today because…”
  • “I am grateful today because…”
  • “Here’s what happiness looks like for me today…”
  • “I feel sad today…”
  • “I dream one day of….”

See what your mind creates. With continuous use, you’ll discover a very remarkable “you.” You’ll be surprised at how deeply your spirit is stirred and how you come alive with thoughts you never knew you had.

Remember notebooking isn’t just for your own thoughts. If I listen to a podcast or take an online course, my notebook is open, ready for note-taking.

I also fill the pages with quotes, notes from office meetings, book titles I want to read, garden designs I want to plant, paint colors for my kitchen remodel, recipes, and people I want to invite for dinner. The lists are a revolving door of my life.

And date them. So important! You’ll lose track of things if you don’t have a rough idea of time.

Does the notebook act as a datebook?
I still use my iPhone Calendar for scheduling, but any notes about certain appointments go inside my notebook with a date. Sometimes, I mark them with Post-It Sticky tabs.

Don’t forget to launch
If I’m ever stuck for ideas or things I want to accomplish, it’s all there within the pages of my notebook, ready for me to retrieve and take action. I can spend hours going through my old notebooks they are the muse for my next project.

This article began within the pages of one of my notebooks. Look through your own pages and see if there’s a brilliant idea ready to launch. Aren’t you glad people like Thomas Edison, George Lucas, and Oprah did?

This post was previously published on Sandy Peckinpah and is republished here with permission from the author.

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