I won’t waste any time in stating the thesis of this post: I believe that every creative person should keep a virtual notebook. I don’t believe there is any reasonable excuse not to. If you don’t currently keep digital notes, consider these reasons why I think it is a no-brainer.
1. Services like OneNote and Evernote are Free
I don’t even need to make case of virtual notebooks being worth the money, because we live in a world where you don’t have to pay anything to get fully-featured note-taking software. Microsoft OneNote and Evernote are typically the top choices in this realm, and it really doesn’t matter which one you choose. I have used both and currently prefer OneNote’s organizational structure of notebooks with sections and pages, but Evernote is great too. Just pick what works best for you, and guess what? You can go ahead and try them out and compare since they are free.
2. Virtual Notebooks Can Do Things Your Physical Notebook Cannot
I can hear the rebuttals already… “I really prefer the feeling of writing on paper, so I think I’ll still with my traditional notebooks, thanks.” I am totally with you that I prefer physically writing for a lot of my notes (particularly brainstorming), and I am not suggesting that a virtual notebook completely replaces it. But the reality is, there are things that a software-based notebook can do that simply isn’t possible with your physical notebook. Case in point: searching. Simply type words, hit enter, and almost instantaneously find all relevant notes. Remember those thoughts you jotted down about that one thing over a year ago? No need to flip through a bunch of pages to find it. Additional advantages include (but are not limited to) making modifications without physically erasing, and moving notes around between notebooks. Not using a virtual notebook is cheating yourself out of the power to search and manipulate your notes at will.
3. Cross-Platform Apps Keep Your Notes Always Available
You can certainly carry around a notebook so you don’t miss out on jotting down an idea, but why carry around an extra object when you (most likely) already carry a smart phone? Having a mobile app that syncs across your other devices not only ensures that you can access your notes at any time, but it also allows you to always be ready to jot something down. Anyone that has ever had a creative idea can attest to the fact that ideas don’t follow rules around showing up at convenient times. Knowing this, it is just plain responsible as a creative person to be prepared by having a system in place that allows for note-taking at any time. Would you really want to risk losing creative ideas simply because you didn’t have an effective way to store them away for later?
4. It Is Creatively Beneficial to Document as Many Ideas as Possible
The human brain is a strange entity with a mind of its own (pun absolutely intended). One example of its interesting behavior is how it seems to hold off on generating new ideas if it feels like it needs to work to remember existing ones. It is as if the brain knows it has limited storage, and says “better hold off on bringing in new ideas to make sure I keep these old ones.” As a creative person, why would you ever want to limit your idea-generating bandwidth? Let your brain focus on new ideas and your working set, and outsource the “remembering” to your virtual notebook, where you can conveniently search for it later. The other advantage of storing away as many ideas as possible is you build up a library of creative thoughts that can be repurposed later. It is not uncommon for me to look through some old ideas and find that I can tweak one of them and combine it with a new idea to produce something even better. No need to filter for “good ideas,” just toss it all into your theoretically infinite digital storage, and you may find that those crazy ideas are the ones that you find yourself coming back to.
5. You Can Be Scatterbrained and Organized Simultaneously
Creativity is messy, and as mentioned earlier, ideas can come on at any time. I could, in one sitting, have an idea for a new board game mechanism, a new blog post, a random craft project, and a new feature for a video game I am developing. None of those thoughts are related, but as I document them, I simply drop them into their appropriate virtual notebooks. Even thought I documented them together temporally, they will all be perfectly organized separately when I come back to them later. It sounds obvious, but it really becomes an invaluable resource as you build up a bunch of different notebooks that are filled with topically related ideas and notes.
Perhaps you aren’t convinced, and that’s fine. I can only attest to my own experience keeping virtual notebooks over the last couple years, and that I now consider it an indispensable part of my creative process. Here’s just a sampling of things that I keep in my notes:
- Teaching lesson plans/ideas
- Board game ideas
- List of blog post ideas
- Game development resources
- List of bands to check out
- Ideas for gifts for people
- Musical ideas
- Video game ideas
- Potential books to read
- Work notes
- Indie games to check out
- Articles to read later
- List of things to learn
- Video game development notes
- And much much more…
The point is, these are all things that I do not need to actively worry about remembering. At the same time, they are readily accessible and organized for me to use later. To me, not keeping a virtual notebook is letting many ideas slip away undocumented, choosing to be inefficient in finding and using the ideas that do get documented, and placing an unnecessary burden of retention on the brain. And to gain what?