They gaped at me, slack-jawed, as I opened my purse, took out my pink notebook, and started scribbling notes in the middle of a business dinner.
Foreign clients had invited my team and I to eat dinner and discuss our latest project in an exotic Arabian restaurant facing the Abu Dhabi River. One of our clients was late for the dinner.
His reason was epic story material.
His wife is battling stage IV cancer. After the birth of her first son, rogue cells started attacking her body. She had a double mastectomy. She and her husband hoped that was the end of it. But after the birth of their second son, cancer came back. With a vengeance. The cancer had metastasized all over her body, including her spine.
While our client was telling us his story, everyone at the dinner table has stopped eating.
But he said something more powerful, something that pushed me to open my purse, took out my pink notebook and started scribbling notes in the middle of a business dinner.
That morning they had an appointment with their oncologist discussing treatment options. When they came out of the doctor’s office, his wife told him, “You know what? I’ve worked through the fear. When death comes for me, you better believe it would have to take me dancing.”
When I heard this powerful statement, the skin on the back of my neck pricked with goosebumps. I’ve never heard something more powerful.
I had to take note of what this courageous woman said so that I can write about her story later on. I don’t have to abandon the dinner and take a whole night to write about what I have heard. Few seconds are enough. I can just take note of the important statement, “When death comes for me, you better believe it would have to take me dancing.”
Later on, when I flip through the pages in my notebook and read this sentence, I can remember the whole story.
That’s the power of taking notes on ideas that come your way.
This is something I learned from my painter friend…
She sees future paintings everywhere.
My painter friend loves to paint. She spends time at art supply stores, walks down every aisle, and runs her hands over the different colors in every shade. She buys tubes of paint, canvases and stashes them in her small apartment.
She has an easel in the middle of her living room and there is always a painting in progress on it, another leaning against the wall.
When my friend and I go on walks, she often interrupts our conversations to stop and take pictures. Or she would stop dead in her tracks and gasp, “Banchi,” she will say “Look at those trees. Look how everything looks completely different in the early morning light. I love the color of your red boots. Look, how it matches your purse. Please, just stand there. I need to photograph this.”
I never wonder how she manages to come up with ideas on what to paint. She sees future paintings everywhere.
Do you? Do you see future writings everywhere?
We can learn from my painter friend.
If you deliberately open your heart to the world around you, writing material is everywhere. The argument you had this morning with your partner. How you handled it or made it worse. Or how you are still thinking about it even when you are supposed to give full attention to the work in front of you. The patience of your adorable puppy — how he follows your footsteps everywhere in your home even though you have snapped at him to leave you alone. What you’re learning from your persistent dog. A memorable book your friend has read and shared the last time you hang out together.
These can be ideas we can use as a springboard to write about.
These ideas pass through us the whole day — if we could only pay attention to them.
How do we pay attention?
Open your heart to everything that is going on around you.
When your writing antenna is always up, stories begin to appear everywhere.
Before I learned to pay attention and take notes, coming up with ideas to write about terrified me. I wondered what to write about. What do I write about today? On what topic am I going to write this week? What am I going to send my email subscribers? What am I going to publish for my clients this month?
Coming up with ideas to write every day felt like banging my head against a wall, instead of walking through an open door. My writing muscles lied there, unattended and indolent.
Now, though, I always have material in my notebook to write about. I can flip through the pages on my several notebooks and pick any idea that interests me.
This is something I started practicing three years ago.
When I launched my blog, Banchi Inspirations, I had a vow to write every single day, long or short, good or bad. To keep my vow, I opened my heart to everything going on around me. My writing antenna was always up. I prowled voracious eyes open, ears open, and mind open, eager for material.
Stories began to appear everywhere.
In conversations, I overheard, in my thoughts and memories, in my friends and their dynamics, in my family and relationships.
I cannot get through a single day without taking notes of something.
The stories were there all along. What changed was what I deliberately decided to focus on.
You can do the same, my friend.
You can be deliberate about capturing stories around you and have enough material for ideas to write about.
One simple way of capturing ideas is to…
Remember the grocery list you write every few days on a piece of paper.
We already know how to take notes. Before we go to the grocery store, we write grocery lists on a piece of paper. Why do we write our lists? Because we don’t want to come back to our home and realize we have forgotten an essential item we needed to buy.
We’ve done this for years.
And yet, we expect a miracle when it comes to our writing. We expect we will remember that epic idea we thought of at noon when we pull our chair and sit in front of our computer to write.
When nothing pops up in our minds, we are shocked.
That epic idea we thought of when we were having coffee with a friend has vanished. We could sit the whole day facing a blank page, trying to remember.
But we will fail.
I have learned my memory fails me. It is unreliable.
So let us take a lesson from our habit of writing a grocery list.
Everyone, including you, has thousands of stories to draw ideas from. You can even turn part of your everyday life into memorable content. Maybe it’s where you grab your morning coffee or something funny your friend said to you last night. The material is everywhere. You just need to learn to take notes throughout the day to capture ideas. The more you take notes, the more ideas you will have for your future writings.
The ingredient to your writing comes from your notes consisting of different ideas you have captured through the days, weeks, months, and years.
My notebook is my savior for everything I write. When all the pages and the margins are full, I buy another one.
I take a note of anything that interests me.
When I communicate with people — I give my full and undivided attention. I listen to take a note of something that interests me. I try to include myself in as many conversations as possible. I take notes of what I hear. What I listen. What I learn.
Be deliberate and take notes, my friends.
Listen to the stories your colleagues talk about. Listen to your families as they talk to you and each other. Listen to strangers on public transports. Listen to the stories of others and you will be able to create a map of stories in your notebook.
Take a note of any story that captures your heart. Of the moment. Of the thought. Of the feeling. Of the insightful perspective. Never rely on your memory. What you write or record could be a single line, a phrase, or a couple of sentences.
But it’s enough.
Later on, when you flip through your notebook pages or listen to your recordings, you’ll remember.
For my painter friend, the rough paintings she initially paints are just ideas, tiny images in her mind, a picture taken here and there, a couple of brushes on a new painting, or a picture of a tree she has saved in her camera.
She will later use these rough paintings as a springboard to paint a masterpiece.
For you, you can turn a single line or paragraph from your notebook into a personal essay. A blog post. An E-book. A book. A draft to pitch to a major publication. Or any creative work you want to send to the world.
This is how I came up with ideas to publish more than 400 blog posts on my blog and nearly 400 articles on Medium in three years.
Make this a habit and you will never starve for ideas to write about.
Writing is not some magic thing that runs forever with no fuel. It needs fuel. Ideas are fuel. An idea that interests you or captures your heart is everywhere. You just have to capture it and take a note of it.
People ask me how I write so much or where I get my ideas. I’ll tell you where I get it. I capture ideas in my notebook. With ideas I write in my notebook, I have more than I know what to do with.
This is the power of your own attention.