Whether you’re a writer, a graphic designer, or even a musician, you know that ideas can come at the strangest times and places. One minute you’re in line at the grocery store, and the next you’re watching the heroine of your epic story face off with the villain’s whole empire. Then you get up there to pay the cashier and you’re like “Ack! I can’t let this idea escape!” But by the time you’ve gotten out to the car, you’ve already forgotten parts of it.
Don’t let this happen to you! Always, always, always carry something to record your thoughts in. Here are a few ideas for what you can bring.
Notepad and pen / pencil
This one’s been the tried-and-true solution for whole generations of creatives. And there are oodles of notebooks out there, from the palm-sized things with the guide lines to miniature sketch pads. If you decide to go this route, make sure you bring not one but two writing implements — pens and pencils have a way of disappearing. And if you bring a pen, make sure it won’t leak in your pocket or purse.
Most people who mention notebooks put in the obligatory plug for Moleskine-brand notebooks, which claim to be the same kind that were used by Ernest Hemingway. I’m not sure if that’s a good or a bad thing, but it sounds literary, doesn’t it? They aren’t actually bound in mole skin, but in cardboard that’s covered with oilcloth, according to the Wikipedia entry.
Moleskine notebooks have lots of fans, and having seen them in person I can attest to the fact that they’re very high-quality. They’re proportionately more expensive than most notebooks, though, and like all paper notebooks they can’t be reused. For my personal note-taking, I like to use
Smartphones, Palm Pilots, and other electronic devices
Most normal cellphones aren’t very good for taking notes on. But if you’ve got one that has keys for texting, or even a new iPhone or iPod Touch, you can use it to record as many notes as you want. Most people find it harder to use a handheld device than to use a full-sized keyboard or even paper and pencil, but there are advantages to going this route! You don’t have to keep paying for notebooks (and using up natural resources), and you can easily back up your notes on your home PC or Mac. It can take some getting used to at first, but once you get to be good at it you may find that you’ll never need a disposable notebook again.
I personally like PalmOS devices for note-taking, from the older Clie and Zire personal organizers to the newer Treo and Centro smartphones. These are the descendants of the original Palm Pilot, which was tailor-made for on-the-go notetaking and was very good at its job. Some of the new Treo smartphones use Windows Mobile instead of PalmOS, and I’m given to understand that Windows Mobile devices are clunky and slow and have poorer battery life. If you can, get a PalmOS one instead — the interface looks 1990’s, but it’s very clean and elegant, and lets you do whatever you want without getting in your way.
Palm Pilot organizers like the Zire 22 let you use a special “Graffiti” alphabet to write text notes with an included stylus, and the newer smartphones have keyboards for your thumbs! Both let you input text very quickly, once you get used to them. And you can “sync” your Palm’s notes with your PC or Mac, using a connector cable and the included software. Then it’s just cut-and-paste, to put them into your favorite word processor.
If you’re stuck with a Windows Mobile device, don’t fret. As long as you have a copy of Microsoft OneNote 2007, you can download a free copy of OneNote Mobile to your device. Then you can take notes with it, and transfer them to your PC. If you aren’t already using OneNote, though, you may want to find another solution, as this one would require you to spend a hundred dollars or more on software!
Finally, if you have an iPhone or iPod Touch, you can always use the included Notes software to record quick text notes, which you can then email to yourself. Another option is to use Evernote, a free notetaking solution like Microsoft OneNote which is available for PC or Mac. You can use the desktop version to accumulate notes and web clippings, and can record new notes on your iPhone or iPod Touch! Then you can read them on your PC or Mac.
Here’s another note-taking solution that’s decidedly oldschool. But unlike notepads, it’s come a long way. While notepads and pencils are pretty much the same as they were at the turn of the century, voice dictation has come from bulky magnetic tapes to digital audio stored on flash memory. And the microcassette recorder I used in 1999, to record interviews for a newspaper reporting job, could effectively be replaced by my new MP3 player. In fact, one review I read on Amazon.com was by a reporter, who used it for that purpose!
Keep in mind, though, that not all voice recorders are created equal. A dedicated voice recorder might be your best bet if that’s all that you need, but if you’re going to use a smartphone or MP3 player you might want to make sure it’ll work for that purpose. Check and see what file format it saves your notes in — can you open it in other programs, or can you only use the software it comes with? How convenient is it to use the device, and if you’re going to use it for interviews how professional does it look?
As an example, the reporter I mentioned liked my Sansa e250 MP3 player, but did not like the newer Sansa View. My e250 has a convenient “Record” button on the side and a microphone on the top of the unit, so you can hold it out to other people and use it just like an old-fashioned microphone. And the included lanyard lets it hang around your neck when you’re not using it. The View, on the other hand, has the microphone on the side, and does not come with a lanyard.
I personally haven’t used my Sansa e250 to take notes, so I wouldn’t know how well it holds up to long-term use as a voice recorder. That’s why it’s important to read reviews before buying any device! Or notepad, if it’s an expensive one.
Hopefully this article has given you some ideas of where to look, and what specific products to read reviews of. Good luck! And if you find anything, leave a comment here, so other readers can see what the best options are!