Ten Places to Write Stuff Down


It's June 20. That means that 2018 is 46.8% history. Where has it gone?

I find that if I am not careful, then time (and everything that I do with it) evaporates and vanishes. One of the best ways I know to combat this is to write.

We actually know very little about civilizations that never bothered to write things down. We rely heavily on written records to figure out where we've been as a human race. While clay tablets and libraries immediately come to mind, everyday writing is important too. One of my historian friends encourages everyone to keep a journal and write down mundane experiences, so that in 100 years, we'll know what a mundane day in 2018 looked like.

Therefore, in order to keep track of where I've been, and to avoid the feeling of "where did my year go," I've been a bit more intentional about writing. The great thing about writing is that it's flexible enough to be used in every part of your day. A few weeks ago, I compiled a list of places where writing can be used to track progress, and record what you've been up to:

Hardware

  • Prayer journal: I use this for writing down prayer requests, confessing sins, and reflecting on whatever God shows me during my devotions. I find myself not falling asleep as much when I'm moving a pen across paper at a desk compared to when I pray with my eyes closed at (or in) my bed.
  • Commonplace Journal: This is a little Moleskine/Leichturm journal I keep in my back pocket. It's handy for sketchnoting during a presentation/sermon, and it's really handy for drawing diagrams for friends at lunch.
  • Lab Notebook: In my work, repeatability is really important. It's essential that I, or another student, can come back to the lab bench in 1, 2, 5, 10 years and do the same experiment and get the same results. The usual pitfall is that you can't remember what all the knobs were set to. "How much current was this device taking?" "What settings did I use to calibrate the sensor?" Writing down everything that you do, as you do it, makes sure that future Jonathan (and those who come after) don't have to reinvent the wheel.
  • Letters: Good old fashioned snail mail. I don't care how good Facebook Messenger and Snapchat get. They will never replace the thrill of opening the mailbox and getting a handwritten letter from a friend. A lot of what we know about historical figures comes from letters that their friends saved. Writing a letter to friends on their birthdays is a great, noninvasive way to keep in touch.

Software

  • Twitter: I write to twitter when I hear really clever quotes, or get some pithy punchy one-liners.
  • Drafts: This app is designed to capture thoughts that you know you need to hold onto, but you don't know exactly what you need to do with them yet. Most of my todo list gets captured here, and later gets sorted into other places. Email addresses, phone numbers, library book call numbers, addresses. Drafts is designed to have quick actions to dump these into other apps, like Evernote, Dropbox, Reminders, Calendar, Email, etc...
  • Day One: This is the best app for journaling that I've found. I keep it on my phone and my desktop. When I have a few minutes here and there, whether its on the train, or right before I leave home, or right before I go to bed, I find it nice to recap over what I did during the day. I'll write about who I talked to, anything that I struggled with, my reactions to news or opinions, how productive I was, etc... There is a lot of value that can be had in re-reading these entries at the end of the week, as well as going back and seeing what I wrote on that day one year ago.
  • Slack: I'm part of two slack communities: one is for public campus evangelism, and another is for witnessing to the worldly, the wealthy, and the well-educated. When I have a positive experience to share to encourage others, or when I feel stuck and am looking for encouragement myself, I write my thoughts and feelings to these communities for feedback. It's also a nice way to document and package experiences, rather than seeing them slip away. When I was a missionary, I would sometimes write similar emails to the student missionary directors back in the United States.
  • LaTeX: I'll sometimes type up memos in LaTeX for my colleagues. I'll sketch out theoretical derivations in Jupyter, my lab notebook, or on looseleaf paper, but for more important derivations, I write them up in LaTeX and keep them in a specific folder on my computer. In the future, I'll put them all together in a 3-ring binder.
  • Scrivener/Byword: This is where I write up blogs and sermons. Byword is targeted more for individual articles. Scrivener shines at putting together documents that involve a lot of research. It includes version control, note taking in the margin, attaching research notes and documents. As far as professional writing tools go, Scrivener is the best tool for the job that I've seen bar-none.

What are your thoughts? Did I miss anything? Practice the art of writing in the comments section below!