From my Notebook >

Exercises for People who Buy a Lot of Notebooks and Never Use Them

So you have this huge stock of unused notebooks. Why does this happen?

One simple explanation for this is that you aren’t writing enough. Your subconscious is trying to help you solve problems through writing, and you aren’t doing it. So it keeps sending very attractive “notebook” signals to your shopping brain.

Perhaps you can solve those big problems in your life, or reach those big goals, by writing more than you do now. If you already write a lot, maybe it would help to write differently than you do now, using a new method or a new attitude.

This is a pretty simple model for why someone would engage in what their friends might describe as hoarding behavior, but you can try it out and see if it applies to you.

Below you’ll find a list of exercises—all of these have helped me to write more.

The Exercises

1. Identify at least three reasons why you aren’t writing as much as you could.

  • For each one of those reasons, list a possible method to overcome it.
  • Repeat this exercise at least monthly. Review: Is it working? If not, what could you do better?

2. Try different forms of writing

  • Write a story. Analyze it for metaphor regarding your current situation. Write the story through to the end.
  • Have a conversation with your helper android. Or a historic figure, or a favorite fictional character, or the Keeper of the Universe.
  • Use secret writing. Use code names for things, or drawn icons / symbols.
  • Try lists. Make a list of things you’d like to do today. Make a list of favorite things. Do some of those too.
    • Next to each item, put a box next to it if it is reasonable, and an upside-down triangle next to it if it is probably a reach. Drill down into it and look for a small sub-task you could easily do today.
  • Keep a log of how today is going. Give it a “star date” at the top, if you want, and narrate like Captain Kirk. Update it every hour at the least. This can help you keep yourself accountable throughout a day, or throughout a process.
  • Write about something that sounds really fun right now, or interesting. Then as you write, work your way around to the question of your current problems or goals.

3. Develop or try a new method for filling in a blank page.

For example, divide the page into halves, or fourths, or even sixths. Or lay it out like a newspaper with various articles. Or write it like a page from the Bible, or a comic book, even one without any characters. What method do you like? Do any of these methods seem to make writing easier?

4. Start to write as if you’re writing, but don’t write actual words.

Let your words flow out as scribbles. As concrete ideas come to mind, write them in the margins…and keep scribbling. If special parts of your scribbles seem significant, underline them. Then ask your intuition: What do those scribbles say?

5. Draw shapes that seem to represent your mindset.

Describe those shapes. You may wish to use art analysis techniques or books to help with this process. Triangles can represent skill at attacking and reaching goals by pursuing key leverage points. Squares and rectangles often represent a preference for, or a need for structure. There’s much more to it, and it’s interesting stuff.

6. Learn about new methods of page-filling.

For example: mind-mapping, travel journaling, flow charting, various types of log-keeping, etc. Sometimes I draw a map. Then I imagine myself somewhere on the map, and ask how the place or situation relates to the solution I need for a problem I’m working on.

7. Decide how you’ll treat your unfinished notebooks.

Some possibilities:

  • Leave as-is, case closed.
  • Go back and finish them up.
  • How many blank pages are you OK having at the end? None? Five? Ten? Fifty? Which number seems right?

8. Go back and index an old notebook.

Write page numbers on every page. Then write those numbers on an extra page at the front, or back, or on a glued-in page. Next to each number, write a simple description of what’s on the page. If there’s not much of interest, there’s no need to index that page. Your index list might go from page 1 to page 2 to page 30.

Try to harvest out any cool ideas or drawings or lessons-learned. Make them part of a new project or a new method. This exercise can help you understand what it’s interesting or helpful to write about.

9. Write in a brand new notebook about how you really hate to break up the notebook shopping party, but you will be writing like crazy from now on, and you’re really sorry to actually use all the notebooks you’ve collected.

They’ll secretly love you for it. Make it easy on yourself, and start with the notebook that you think would be easiest to fill up next.

10. Create a prominent display of your favorite notebooks, past and future (unopened).

One thing that differentiates a collector from a hoarder is the way the collector cares for, curates, and even displays their favorite items from their collection. Over time, rotate the display. Which kinds of notebooks seem to echo which kinds of moods, or sets of problems in your life?

And when people ask about a hobby, tell them you collect notebooks. Don’t hide it—know what it means for you and embrace it.

11. Ask your intuition which notebook would help you write today.

Accept the answer it gives you, and try it out.

12. Write to your subconscious about why you realize you should write more, or plan more, or whatever it is.

“Dear subconscious: OMG my mind is just flowing with ideas. But the thought of writing them all absolutely overcomes me. The thing is, I’ve always been terrible at just sitting down at writing. And you seem to suggest I should do this more? Why? Is it because of my recent struggles with…”

13. Observe the notebooks you’ve kept in the past.

Are they cheap? High-quality? How about their size and length? What kind of notebook could you never get yourself to write in? What kind of notebook seems to encourage you to write—you have even filled up some of these?

In the future, adjust your notebook search when you’re shopping—be more picky about buying the kind of notebook that will help you write.

14. Go to a special place to write. Or a more mundane place.

Try the library, the park, the bookstore, a nearby educational institution, a different room in your house, your back yard, or the top of a mountain. Find out what you like, and when.

15. Forgive yourself for writing on something new when you already have unfinished notebooks around.

This happens to everybody, for various reasons. Maybe you needed to create a new journey for yourself from scratch, or maybe you just didn’t realize you’d have to write and didn’t bring your unfinished notebook. It’s really OK, and there’s no need to believe you are spiraling into some deep, notebook-related illness.


I hope some of these have been helpful. The struggle is real. And—get writing.