I sat down with a college professor a few years after graduating. Writing and speaking had become a supplemental skill set to my job and was beginning to open up a lot of doors. Having my thoughts and voice heard by many was an unexpected turn of events. My discomfort with it led me to ask my old professor to meet up, hoping to glean some wisdom, ask advice on how to become better in an area where I used to struggle, and now was excelling.
He was and still is a student favorite English professor at my liberal arts college, and therefore I only had him for one class. We talked about writing and where ideas come from. I shared with him that I had been forgetting about great ideas, so I started carrying a pocket journal with me to write ideas in but also to write out the thoughts and anxieties that were keeping me stuck.
"Well, if it worked for Hemingway, Emerson, and Einstein it will work for you too." He laughed. "Always write. No sentence is too small or idea worth forgetting completely."
Since then, you'd be lucky to find me without a small Moleskin journal in my back left pocket and a pen in my front right. There's a small stack of these journals with tattered covers and dog-eared pages sitting next to my bookshelf. They have my thoughts when the middle of the day at work and from waking up at 2 am. They are the birth place of some of my best business ideas and creative endeavors as well as the place where I send my stresses to rest.
The reason why I do this is because it helps me think, but also because it helps me not forget what I've already thought about. Ideas tend to leave as quick as they came and often my best thoughts don't come back. It can be frustrating if I know I thought of something that motivated or inspired me, something to share with a co-worker that would be meaningful, and can only remember the idea of the idea, but not the idea itself. We remember only a little of what we see, more of what we see and write, and most of what we do. Writing it down is a way to do something which helps you recall it, but even if you don't you remember it off the top of your head, you have it written down to go reference.
"If it worked for Hemingway, Emerson,
and Einstein it'll work for you too."
I also looked into it and found this was a practice many amazing people have had. The list is pretty endless but Mark Twain, Thomas Jefferson, Beatrix Potter, Beethoven, Leonardo Da Vinci, Marie Curie (although you can't read it without radioactive protection), Marilyn Monroe, George Lucas, Larry David, Peter Jennings, Katharine Hepburn, Virginia Woolf, Pablo Picasso, and Isaac Newton... A simple Google search will show you tons more, but the list isn't confined to writers. It goes on to scientists and mathematicians, actors and politicians, generals and artists.
The reason why I've kept this practice is because of what my professor said. Now, these historical and modern great people certainly have more than their journal to offer the world, but I do know we all have thoughts running through our head at a rate our memory can't keep up with. So if this practice was good enough for people who believed they had something to bring to the world, something they needed to remember, and I feel the same way it will work for me. Also, looking back when I feel discouraged is the most encouraging practice I have. I flip back to pages to see ideas that have come to fruition and greatly benefited my work and personal life. When talking with friends about problems I often reference the journals. I know them like chapter books so when I need something from when I was transitioning jobs in 2015, I know right where to go.
For a while, I'll admit it felt unnecessary and even conceited to think this practice mattered. I am no Hemingway, but over the years it's proven to be one of the greatest resources in my life. And best of all, I have something to leave behind. And if it worked for the greats in history, I'm sure it'll do just fine for me as well.