The website (and great podcast) the Art of Manliness has a great article from 2010 about the pocket notebooks of famous people.
Some of the worst advice you could get would probably be “you should do this because it’s what famous people do”, but let’s look into this. What do famous people all have in common – apart from a heavy dose of ego?
I’d say it’s clarity of purpose in at least one area of their life. For good or bad, what defines someone famous is that they have confidence in themselves to pursue something nobody has done before, or to pursue the same thing but with a dedication and purpose that most other people do not have.
To have purpose you have to understand and motivate yourself. Someone else can drive you but then your limit will be that person’s motivation. Unless you are being mentored by Kanye West or Richard Branson, that won’t be enough to become famous.
You need to understand yourself, to soak in the world and re-combine what you see and hear. You do that to understand the topic but also to understand yourself, to discover what angles you are using to look at and to explore new ones.
It is what Steven Johnson calls “in a very real sense textual play”, something earnest university students do under prompting from their lecturers, and which Google replicates in algorithm format whenever you type in a search result.
The difference in having a notebook you can hold is that it is an external construction that has become a part of you, you intellectual beaver. It is something you can put down and forget, then pick up after months, years, and look at with fresh eyes and fresh insight.
Blogs, Google searches, they are useful but they are intentional. Evernote and computer folders can become breeding grounds for inspiration, but they are hard to navigate and could never compare to simply skimming and flicking through the pages of a worn notebook. Well, at least not until I figure out how to use Tags in Evernote the right way.