How To Use Notebooks As Creative Tools
Do you spend 80% (or more) of your waking life on a screen?
Do you multitask?
Do you find it hard to get in the flow?
Are you overwhelmed by too many ideas?
Do you tend to overthink or suffer from scattered thoughts?
Are you having trouble following through ideas and unfinished projects?
Do you consider yourself a creative?
If you said yes to any of the above, all you might need is a notebook.
I know that it’s as simple as this, because, I’m the same.
I spend 10+ hours of my day on a screen, and yet, use notebooks every single day religiously and only for creative purposes. And I think you should do the same.
To begin with, I own a ridiculous number of notebooks, each dedicated to a very specific area of my mind, so to speak. I have one notebook dedicated to every single ongoing project that I have, and I advise you to do the same. I think this is so so so beneficial. This ritual trains my mind to associate that specific book with that specific project. What’s on this notebook is mostly ramblings, but that’s OK because this is a non-judgemental, non-edited space. These notebooks will probably never make it to the public eye, and this gives me the comfort of running freely. Many happy accidents happen here.
So, every time I want to work on a project, all I have to do is pull out the associated notebook, which acts as the sensory trigger that transfer me to the right mental space, instantly. It’s unbelievably easy to train your mind and create the discipline to focus. In fact, whenever I feel inspired with a new idea, I go grab an empty notebook and write down my thoughts. This symbolic action marks the start of a project, similar to a commitment, signing a contract or setting an intention. And it makes you accountable.
I also keep one large notebook for scheduling and planning, which is kind of like my PA. It helps me bring all of my separate projects and different areas of my life together. Although not everything makes it to this journal, but when they do, it means that it has come to a certain fruition and it’s now time to get it executed. This is a very public notebook that I carry around. It’s very much associated with the conscious mind. It’s practical, it’s realistic, and it involves S.M.A.R.T. items.
I have a journal that I write on every single day, that keeps all the learnings and wisdom of my life. I have another one that I write on when I’m angry or sad, and then rip it apart when it’s full. It’s very satisfying, highly recommended. After watching Gala Darling’s TED Talk Radical Self Love, I also got into the habit of keeping a list of all the compliments I receive, and, sure enough, I keep them in a notebook. These are more about my emotional world, and they act very much as very very early inspirational insights. Because creativity and emotions are ruled by the right brain, these notebooks and my project notebooks feed each other constantly. And in fact, the separation of the two are kind of vague.
I do realise that for many, having the discipline of keeping all these notebooks simultaneously is unrealistic. However, this is a discipline that you have to train yourself to get into. And when this becomes an extension of your natural thinking process, there’s massive benefit to your creativity. All this does is training your mind to associate notebooks with deep focus and creation. And using an external sensory trigger, such as a notebook, is the key to this. It conditions your brain to go back to a contemplative space every time you see and feel and smell and hear a blank page on your notebook. Our primal brain loves this.
Notebooks are creative tools in training your mind with a sensory trigger for deep focus and flow, and they’re excellent companions for any mental journeys.
So, here are some practical tips on how to use a notebook as a creative tool:
👉🏼Notebooks are for shitty first drafts, rough sketches and mind maps.
Use your notebook to sketch, draft, doodle and brainstorm. Don’t use it to refine, edit, finalise or execute. The refinement, editing, finalising and execution are the natural outcome of a creative process, but — believe it or not — they’re not the goal of it and come much further along the way.
🤞🏼Notebooks are the tool, not the medium.
That’s why you need to use your notebook instrumentally. This means that your notebook is there to serve you, not the other way around. It’s not something you need to be precious, considerate or gentle with. It’s the tool for mistakes and accidents. In fact, it’s the tool to help you generate enough mistakes and accidents to arrive at good, great and outstanding ideas. So, use your notebook roughly, exhaustively, quickly and intuitively.
👌🏼Notebooks may bore you.
The weight of an empty notebook and the responsibility of filling out a whole empty notebook may seem boring and overwhelming at the same time. And that’s an excellent thing. Boredom is a catalyst for creativity. Use your notebook to practice repetitive skills and build muscle memory. Use it for tasks that you often procrastinate on, without the luxury of escaping to the usual drugs like distractions and multitasking that you can easily catch on from a screen.
✌🏼Notebooks are inspiring objects.
As tactile as they are, notebooks offer a multi-sensory experience that involves touch, movement, smell and sound. Other than being a anchor for accessing that creative zone in your brain, those mortal and restricted objects are an inseparable part of the process by setting much desired physical and functional boundaries and challenges. So don’t avoid them. Smell them. Touch them. Feel them. Be sentimental about them.
👊🏼 Notebooks are archival.
Notebooks are cool because they take you back to the earlier thought patterns and ideas that your brain (and the screen) can never ever take you. Seeing the progress and having the luxury of going back to a good idea that you discarded along the way is precious. That’s the antidote to a very paradoxical common problem in creativity. The more you work on an idea, the more you lose the essence of it. Your job as a good creative is to always find that balance between the raw idea and the refined execution. And your notebook will allow you to go back to earlier versions where you’ve found that sweet spot.
🖖🏼 Worst ideas are often the best ideas.
Marina Abramovic talks about asking her students to come up with a number of ideas and to put them on a piece of paper each. She would then tell them to go through the whole pile and throw away all the ideas that they didn’t like into a bin. She would go to the bin to go through the discarded ideas. The best ideas are often the worst ones, she says. Never throw an idea away or rip off a page from your notebook.
🤙🏼 Dedicate notebooks to ideas, not activities.
Creativity is multi-disciplinary, and so are notebooks. Best creatives seek for ideas, and the execution is a natural result of it. So, don’t spare notebooks to techniques, or activities, like this-is-my-writing-book, and this-is-my-watercolour-notebook, but dedicate them to ideas, like this-is-my-notebook-about-fun, like this-is-my-notebook-about-my-mum and this-is-my-notebook-about-my-dark-side.
🖕🏼Every notebook is a diary.
Notebooks belong to their owners, not to the rest of the world. At least, not right away. Notebooks allow privacy to messy experimentation. That doesn’t mean that a notebook cannot be the object of voyeurism, eventually. But the number 1 purpose of a notebook is to create a safe space to hatch ideas. So respect that introverted, reflective space and care for the integrity of your notebook.
I keep practicing and reflecting on how I can make the most out of notebooks every single day and I invite you to do the same. If you’re still not sure where to start, let me give you a few more ideas. Here are some more things you can do with your notebooks:
Keep a dream diary
Do daily 5 minute sketches
Write down your mum’s recipes
Write short stories
Do morning pages
Make watercolour drawings
Write down your inspirations
Write letters that you can never send
Keep a running bucket list
Do Sharpie illustrations
Make a collage book
Keep a travel journal
Take notes on a park bench
Track your mood every morning
Plan your life and write down your goals
Doodle while on the phone
Write your favourite quotes
Keep to-do lists
Write down curse words in every language
Keep a gratitude journal
Write the first draft of your novel
If this already got your juices flowing, you should never leave the site of the decision without taking an action. If you‘ve decided to try out creative habits, then take a look at some of our notebooks, designed only for creatives. They’re all made of very high quality, soft and durable pages, which you can carry around in your pocket or purse. Inspired by the hunger, curiosity and excitement of being an art student, each of these notebooks are dedicated to a different principle, concept, tool, or idea on the process of art and creativity.
Take this notebook, GESTALT or this is not a fried egg, which is dedicated to the Gestalt theory for instance. “A theory about the whole being more than the sum of its parts, our mind recognising patterns, grouping close objects or of similar shape together — and taking metaphors literally”. You can use this little mantra at the back cover whenever you feel stuck and feel the softness of its velvety pages and the unique smell of its ivory paper as you pour your ideas out in a moment of inspiration, knowing that they will always live in your notebook. Forever.
May the muses be with you!