Now I’m a Notebook Thief: What I’m stealing from Joan Didion

I have been reflecting a lot on the process of a keeping a notebook. I wrote about my unusually extensive system and the type of notebooks I use, and I reflected on how my notebook system fits into my daily routine.

Notebooks are my primary artistic output. I have few creative products. Most of what I do is thinking, and the best I have to show of my thinking is the notes I take on my on my thoughts, the notes I take on the things I read or hear or, more personally, the stream of conscious output of my mind.

I am becoming obsessed with my notebooks, and I am starting to study other famous notebook keepers.

I just received a “complete” copy of Leonardo da Vinci’s drawings, and I think I may add a couple other “complete” volumes of aspects of da Vinci’s notebook system to my library.

It is every thinker’s dream to have the breadth of accomplishment that da Vinci had. Just imagine how history might have changed had he shared the content of his notebooks during the course of his life!

I keep seeing references to Joan Didion’s essay On Keeping a Notebook, so I decided that I should take some time to sift through her revered thoughts.

I saved a few snippets from her essay and pasted them in one of my notebooks.

Didion records observations or snippets of dialogue.

Basically, Didion seems to record relics or observations from her experiences out in the world. She differentiates her type of notebook from a diary.

In contrast to Didion’s notes, my notes tend to come in a couple forms: (1) factual notes from things I read or hear with creative leaps of thought scribbled in the margins, or (2) stream-of conscious reflections on my thoughts and activities.

I do not record relics of the outside world like Didion does for her notebooks.

Didion’s purpose for keeping a notebook is personal. She aims to remember how she felt in simple moments of her life. Her records are meant to keep her in touch with herself.

I am adding a credit card sized pocket notebook for observations to my system.

I do not spend a lot of time out in the world. I don’t know if I really have a lot of opportunity to record relics of my experience as Didion seems to do, but I will try.

I have secured a tiny, credit card sized notebook and a pen that fits in my pocket that I can keep with me wherever I go. Going forward I will make an effort to record simple observations from my experience, and I will see where this new habit takes me.

A key will be to see if I can get the same value out of my observations as Didion seems to get.

My wish is that by studying the note and diary making habits of others, I can build a more effective, more memorable, and more impactful notebook system for myself.

In Summary

Theft from Joan Didion: habit of making brief notes of surroundings and events and keeping snippets of dialogue. To accomplish this I will start carrying a pocket notebook.