The Detritus of a Creative Life

Monday, July 23, 2012
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Ideas are like ninjas. They appear out of nowhere, they wreak havoc, and disappear as quickly as they came. Sometimes you can think an idea is really good, but later on it turns out just to be a fat guy in a silly costume. Since you don’t always know what you are dealing with when you get jumped (or, if you insist, inspired) I have found that it pays to take all ideas very seriously.

Taking ideas seriously means writing them down. Until you try to work with an idea in some form, you can’t know what you’ve got. It could be genius. Then again, your excitement could just be a glandular malfunction.

For my entire life I’ve made my living coming up with ideas and rendering them into words. Currently, I split my time between writing novels and helping professionals with their writing through executive coaching and small group training. Before this, I was an advertising creative director. For all of this, I have a shelf of journals and five linear feet of files filled with handwritten pages.

Writing longhand has a lot to commend it. In an age of attention deficit, it forces one to focus. A sheet of paper has never interrupted me with an IM, or tempted me to sketch web browser in the margin so I can look up some tenuously related fact on Wikipedia. I wrote a nice little essay about this called, “A Defense of Writing Longhand.”

As much as I love pen and paper, it does present a few problems. It is only accessible in one place. Also, it’s not easily searchable. But when I got a ScanSnap that all changed. Now I can get control of the detritus of a creative life. I can archive it. I can tag it. I can put it in the cloud and never worry about it again. I can do all of this with an automagical ease.

You know, it’s a sad fact of life – most ideas are bad. But you’ve got to have the bad ideas to get to the good ones. That’s why Linus Pauling said, “The best way to have a good idea is to have a lot of ideas.” To that I add, have a lot of ideas and be able to keep track of them.

Patrick McLean (@PatrickEMcLean) is a ScanSnap Squad contributor, as well as the author of five books, including the Parsec Award-Winning How to Succeed in Evil series. When he’s not writing he helps professionals produce better writing with less effort through executive coaching and small group-training at his company.

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