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You know the advice about writing something down to make sure you remember it later. Don’t trust yourself, they say. You will forget it. So keep a pen and paper or that notes app on your phone handy. For writers, we would want to record any story ideas, dialogue, characters, set pieces, or anything along those lines. My memory is absolutely terrible, so I second that advice. Write it down! I use Evernote with tags to keep all these things organized.
But if that’s not enough motivation for you, allow me to contend that remembering it later isn’t even the best reason to be in the habit of writing your ideas down. The greatest benefit of consistently writing it down is that it puts you in that specific frame of mind. Through repetition and habit, you can generate a filter by which you observe the world.
I noticed this a few years ago while working on an exercise of creating one story idea every day for a month. It was billed to me as a commitment to show up and to be consistent. And yes, that’s true. Consistency is crucial. But consistency is a tactic, not a goal in itself. If we treat it as the goal we can lose the magic why of what we’re being consistent about!
The most interesting thing I noticed about that story idea exercise was just how much easier the ideas came to me as the month went on. The first few days, I was pounding rock, and by the last few days, I had two or three ideas by sundown. Now, only a few of these ideas were any good, but that’s actually a huge success.
So what was happening here? Why does writing it down seem to trigger a certain way of thinking, even when you’re not currently writing anything down?
I am convinced the consistency of the exercise trains your mind to eventually observe the world through that specific lens. In this case, as a storyteller. Eventually, the stimuli around you that we call life must pass through that storyteller filter. You read a news article. Is this a story? You see something interesting on the street. Is that a scene? Have a weird meeting with someone. Is that a character? What if this happened right then? Why would someone do that? Etc… etc…
The more you do it, the more it becomes a habit you don’t even think about. It just happens.
You will see this a lot with comedians. Joan Rivers was famous for writing and storing jokes on index cards. She constantly generated new material because she trained her mind to filter the world through potential jokes.
Hanging out with the wonderful improv community in Los Angeles can be one comedy bit after another (For better and for worse!) They practice, coach, perform and write comedy every day. It’s muscle memory now. They can’t help it. They have trained their minds to see patterns and notice the unusual thing, and it’s now how they see the world.
I have no doubt this principle holds true for any creative or creative-adjacent endeavor. Painting, music, advertising, architecture, lighting design. You name it. You train the mind just like you train the body.
The key is consistency. But again, that’s a means, not the end. Write it down. Don’t miss a day. The pressure and the commitment to do it are good. That’s what keeps the mind open and taking in information. In the beginning, you force yourself to see the world as a storyteller, and eventually it becomes a habit you don’t consciously think about.
And yes, the added benefit is that you will remember the damn thing, too.
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