How a Pen and Notebook Can Prepare You for Life Post-Pandemic
The following is adapted from Shtick to Business.
A notebook—not a microphone–is the most important tool of the masters of comedy. And it could be the most important tool for you as you think about your next product launch, entrepreneurial venture, or career change.
Indeed, the recent pandemic certainly seems to have people thinking about career changes.
For example, many episodes of Seinfeld are based on a premise from Larry David’s notebook, which he identified years earlier.
David Sedaris, renowned humor and memoir writer, needs to write down everything he sees and does in a journal. He has kept every single journal since age thirteen, some of which he uses as source material for his comedy. He even turns them into books.
The notebook is so important to comics that Mitch Hedberg lost his notebook once, and it’s the only time his wife Lynn Shawcroft ever saw him cry.
The sooner you start writing, the sooner you begin generating your best ideas. There are three reasons why this is true: writing helps you remember, clarify, and communicate. Here’s how.
Write to Remember
There’s no time like the present to start building a new writing habit. Writing will help you remember different periods of your life, whether you’re starting a new job, moving cities, or experiencing a historic event like the current pandemic. At some point in the future, you might want to look back on your writing to revisit what you were doing and thinking at momentous times.
The superiority of pen and paper is based on more than nostalgia and a wistful desire to return to the past—research reveals its benefits.
It forces you to slow down your thinking and increases your memory of the material. Some professors are banning laptops during lectures because of the evidence in favor of handwritten notes. If it’s a choice between typing it up or not writing it down, then, by all means, type it. But be aware that a phone or a laptop are also horrific forms of distraction.
So chances are that if you’ve written it down, you’ll remember it. But if you don’t write it down in the first place…you’ve already lost it.
Joan Rivers understood this and kept all of her jokes—too many to count—on index cards in a set of files. The toughest part of dealing with the library-esque card catalog was deciding what category to put a joke in. No Boolean word searches were available in her Upper East Side apartment in New York City.
In comedy or business, you can use writing to remind you of what you want and inspire you to go after it.
Write to Clarify
Recording to remember is like dumping ideas on a page. It’s crappy first drafts and aimless journaling. But writing can also help with clarity.
Writing exposes weakness in thought and reason. Writing helps you to workshop an idea. The precision that is necessary when writing down words and ideas demands a level of clarity. It slows you down and makes you acknowledge what you don’t know.
The value of writing to clarify applies especially well to business planning. Gone are the days of long business and marketing plans. Things are fast and lean—or ought to be.
By limiting yourself and your writing to a single page, you’re forced to clarify and condense your ideas down to their core. You cut out unnecessary thoughts and leave only the most important points behind, saving time and energy when you need to share your ideas with others.
Write to Communicate
Once your idea is developed, your writing moves from an internal document (ideas just for you) to become an external document (to share ideas with others).
When you’re writing to communicate, you are not writing for yourself anymore. You are writing for others. To communicate your message coherently, you need to accept that they simply do not care about your message as much as you. They also don’t know your message to begin with.
You, the writer, knows everything about your topic, but it’s easy to not realize what your audience doesn’t know. You accidentally leave out important information that would bridge the gap.
The solution for this is to first identify the singular important idea you’re trying to communicate. Writing your thoughts on paper can help you identify that core idea. Seeing your writing on paper—your ideas in one physical space—can help you take a high-level look at your message from your audience’s perspective.
Then, determine the necessary prerequisites to understanding that idea. Finally, ensure that those prerequisites are addressed in some way in your communication.
Get a Journal and Start Writing Now
As you can see, writing with a pen and paper offers more tangible benefits than simply making you look like the most intellectual person at your coffee shop of choice. It will help improve your information retention, clarify your thoughts, and allow you to more effectively share your messages with others.
If you don’t own one already, go buy a journal now. It’s okay to spend some money on it—especially if it helps you write in it, so as not to waste money. On the other hand, if having a fancy journal makes it so sacred that it inhibits your writing, just get a cheapo spiral for 44 cents. Do what sets you free.
The more you write—to remember, clarity, and communicate—the more you will take control of your ideas.
For more advice from the genius and madness of the world’s funniest people, you can find Shtick to Business on Amazon.