How Writing Preserves Your Thoughts

In a post from January 2012 -- How to Have More Ideas: The Magic of Notebooks. -- I argued that most people have ideas all the time, but then they let these ideas flutter away, never to be seen again. Some other people are careful to write all their ideas in notebooks. Re-reading these notebooks later makes you realize how much you think of is quickly forgotten. That is why writers are inevitably people who have the habit of writing down ideas before they are gone.

Writing down all your ideas in notebooks or electronic equivalents does preserve the basic idea but sometimes this is just the germ of a concept, the starting point for further work. More recently I have realized that writing out your thoughts more fully preserves these thoughts very effectively. Looking back now over the posts I have written for this blog over the last nine years I find now many thoughts that I developed a few years ago and have simply forgotten.

Between posts for this blog, freelance articles, speeches & articles I ghost write for others and chapters for books like Payforward Networking, I write the equivalent of two or three novels per year, so it is not surprising that I don't remember all of the detailed thoughts I have written down.

Some of these ideas later inspired lectures and remain fresh in my mind years later -- like Here Be Dragons, an essay about how culture impacts our life in some strange and surprising ways that you probably have never thought of. Many others describe methods I routinely use in my speaker coaching practice and are unlikely to be forgotten, like What Speakers Can Learn from Rock Guitar Solos, from July 2014.

Others record random thoughts about any topic that interests me, but by developing the concept over about 700-1000 words I record not just the basic idea but the entire line of thinking plus all the examples that inspired it. Re-reading these posts many years later I rediscover ideas that I might only recall partially, and it is very satisfying to reload the idea into my consciousness -- like reloading a memory from a Pensieve.

This is the case with posts like If Fish Could Draw, from September 2009, a reflection on how the limitations of one media often spur creativity in others, or the 2010 sequel If Fish Could Draw II about my search for the world's first fisheye painting, For the record this was apparently Jan van Eyck's The Arnolfini Portrait of 1434. There are many others, like the 2011 posts How a Prophetic 1946 Story Anticipated Today's Web and How Brunel Built Bridges, Steamships and Railways Without Email. 

Finding all these thoughts preserved not just in my private notebooks but in a public archive like this is very convenient. Sometimes I might recall that once I had been thinking about some subject but not remember all the details. With a quick Google search I can locate the post, re-read it and reload the thoughts into my head again.

Most of the time people write for other people, and all of the posts here were originally written for this reason. But taking the trouble to write down your thoughts in some detail is also a very useful way to capture and preserve our thoughts. Most likely you will be pleasantly surprised that you had so many ideas and will be happy to rediscover them again. Whether you write for a public space like this or a private journal it doesn't matter; what counts is that you capture the ideas while they are still on the top of your mind.

Lectures, Workshops, Coaching, Writing

Many of the topics I have covered in the posts on this blog have been inspired by my lectures or workshops. Occasionally it is the other way around. If you see a post you find interesting and you would like to hear more email me on or call 0046 730 894 475.


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