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Journaling 101

January 8, 2013
English: Detail from photographic portrait of ...

English: Detail from photographic portrait of Charles Dickens (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

“In a notebook he called ‘memoranda’, Charles Dickens wrote story ideas, suggestions for titles, names he might use for characters in his books, and wisps of suggestion as delicate as cobwebs that somehow, grew thicker and stronger until, years later they resulted in his large, powerful novels.”

Frederick Busch

If you want to write a great book, plan a speech or lead a powerful meeting, where do you start? When you want to lose weight, get in great shape or advance your education, how do you assure your success? If you desire to run a great company, become a smart investor or construct an engineering marvel, what should be your first step? It all begins with capturing your initial thoughts, ideas, plans and goals and then building on them.

Your thoughts may start out as “delicate cobwebs” but will ultimately grow to powerful outcomes with nurtured thinking and progressive attention. Great outcomes only happen if the initial thought is “Trapped”. Without taking the first step of taking if from being just a concept on your mind to making it physical by writing it down, it can easily becomes lost.

It’s evident that the great author Charles Dickens thought of ideas as small seeds. Seeds do their greatest good when they are planted. With attention and a little nurturing they germinate, grow and bear abundant fruit. Dickens’ great books started out as fragile seeds but by planting them in his journal he called “memoranda”, they took root and grew into the powerful novels that are enjoyed by many even today. What if he wouldn’t have had a mechanism in place to trap the initial idea?

How many idea seeds have you had that were never planted or allowed to take root? If you don’t have a system in place to capture your “wisps” of ideas they will never take root or bear fruit.

What is a system? Here’s how the author Alan Robinson, in his book Ideas are Free, described the system of one of the productive journalers in history, Leonardo da Vinci:

“Leonardo da Vinci carried a notebook with him at all times so that he could jot down ideas, impressions, and observations as they occurred…For da Vinci, the process of recording questions, observations, and ideas was of great importance.”

You can set up the same system the greats have used throughout history to achieve uncommon success. The system is simple. Get an inexpensive notebook like the one you used in high school to keep notes in. Keep it, and something to write with, near you throughout the day. When you feel moved to trap a thought, observation or inspiration, jot it down. It doesn’t have to be neat or perfect punctuation or even spelled right. Just begin capturing those “wisps” that you formerly let escape. Be sure to date your notes though. Leonardo da Vinci didn’t date his entries and he gave historians fits when they tried, in later years, to reconstruct his life through his journals. They had a hard time placing them in chronological order.

As you collect journal entries you will develop a rich pool of material that you will find many ways to use throughout your life. I am writing this blog from the material I have captured in my journals.

Tomorrow we will talk about the power of writing a journal by hand over a digital version. If you want to exercise your brain – never journal digitally!


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  1. Kat permalink

    Awesome. I loved what you said about carrying it with you so you can trap ideas when they come to you!!

  2. sherri permalink

    I have always wanted to do a journal I always have ideas floating around in my head…I am going to give it a try…thanks!

  3. In the future I hope you explore the biological connection between Journalling and learning.

    I greatly enjoy your Blog.

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