Meta: This month I’m corresponding with Simon Woods

Hi Jason,

Sorry for the late start — my reward for scheduling something for August is an unplanned move. I think there’s a line about the quickest way to make god laugh.

I hope all is well for you? Given the wonderfully dystopian nature of our summers now and my inability to consistently keep up to date with, well, much of anything I’m unsure exactly how most people are keeping at the moment.

You hit the nail on the head recently regarding subject matter. Journaling, notebooks, and all associated ephemera have become a sudden, significant part of my life. Not only have I been journaling but I have more than one journal available, as well as two planners, and a host of notebooks of different types. I started building my collection at the very end of last year, beginning from maybe a handful of books.

It definitely caught me off guard and I realised that by separating certain aspects of my thinking from the computers in my life I had found the level of compartmentalisation that matched my long-term ambitions. It helped me to find a source of inspiration for what I mentioned in that original blog post: intention. In many ways, the physical books allow me to talk to myself within the constraints of writing in which I am comfortable and motivated, whilst the computer remains the best tool for talking to other people.

This was all news to me, having struggled to wrangle these thoughts for the past few years, and given that I am curious to know if physical notebooks play any such role for you?

Speak to you soon, Simon

Hi Simon,

I used to joke that the sure sign of when my life is getting chaotic is when I struggle to get a hair cut. I go through entire periods of time where planning something 4-5 weeks out, or even finding a slot that lines up with when I’m free can start to feel nearly impossible. Plans are comfortable fictions we cling to at our own risk. The dystopian nature of summer is making me rethink a lot of things about my life though— I am becoming less tolerant to the heat and humidity as I get older and yet have never lived somewhere with hotter and more humid summers than my home for the last 7 years in Baltimore. Escaping the heat (and cold, to a lesser extent) to be somewhere I actually want to be outside will need to become a permanent feature rather than a partial release.

Physical notebooks have a way of flashing in and out of my life. At times when I am really struggling emotionally, I’ve found that writing some quick and easy reflections at the end of the day can be helpful. Writing on the computer doesn’t always work for writing about how I’m feeling, especially the kind of writing that is never meant to be read. I don’t find that this kind of journaling is meant to be precious or returned to. This is the kind of writing I’m doing to help myself think and reflect.

Sitting at a keyboard and staring at a blank screen feels harder than a blank page. I know that there are people who feel like a beautiful notebook being sullied by first-ink is a meaningful barrier. But for me, staring at a blank screen feels constricting. It’s too easy to pause over a word or a sentence. It’s too easy, with the legibility of text on screens, to keep whole paragraphs in sight and think about the whole. Stream of consciousness on paper feels good. I can’t type fast enough to keep up with my thinking, but I can almost fool myself, which leads to bad writing. Writing by hand has no hope of catching up to my thoughts, so there’s a rhythm and speed to it that feels good when I’m trying to find words.

On the other hand, notebooks for work can play a different role. When I’m particularly scattered, I find a written down task list helpful. I need something physical and outside of my screen that catches my eye and attention throwing me back toward what I should be getting done. Doesn’t always work. So I like using something like the Ugmonk Analog system or Sidekick Notepad. I like using dot grid notebooks because what I write in these books are almost always bulleted lists, task lists, or drawings.

I still can’t get down with “mind mapping” or even diagramming software. When something is amorphous, writing or drawing is far more likely going to help me organize and resolve my thoughts. Sometimes I find myself writing about the same thing over and over again over weeks, each time tweaking it slightly. Going through this process often reveals some strokes that I keep drawing, and they become deeper and more solid. And eventually, I’m writing nearly the same thing and I know that I’ve figured something out.

There’s no ambition in my use of physical notebooks. They come and they go. But there are times in my life and types of thinking that just work better with a nice pen and paper.