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I’m Lou Franco and this is episode 22 of Write While True.
The name of this podcast is a program that goes into an infinite loop, and that’s because I think of writing as an infinite game.
It’s like a game of catch, which is even more fun when you get better at it, but the only way to do that is to keep playing.
So in each episode, I’ll tell you something I learned about writing and then I’ll throw you the ball with a writing challenge or prompt.
I’ve been using paper journals for years. Last week I told you a lot of specifics about that, and how I moved from a single multi-purpose journal to dedicated single-use journals. This episode is a follow-up to that, so listen to episode 21 if you haven’t yet.
When I was done with a journal, I’d put it on the shelf with others. I do a good job of making sure to transfer anything important to a real tracking system at the end of the day, so there wasn’t much in the journal that I thought would be useful.
Revisiting old journals
At some point, though, I picked up an old journal, it was probably a few years old at that point, and just flipped through it. As expected, it was mostly boring. Just a mundane list of what was going on that day. Meetings, task lists, chores.
But every once in a while, I did get to relive a fun experience. Or reread an idea I had forgotten about. This was before I had developed a good permanent note taking system like I talked about in episode 2. So I didn’t know what to do with these ideas—they weren’t good enough to do much with.
But now that I want to write and publish a blog post every day, I’ll take any idea I can get. In episode 12, I talked about how the one thing that helps me write is having a long list of ideas. So, now when I am looking over my journals, I do it with a mission of finding things that I could write about.
Make it easier to harvest
Since I know I’m going to do that, to make things easier, while I am journaling, I use two pens, two different colors—black and red. Most of my journaling is in black. But, if I have a big win or I think something could be interesting I mark it in red. If I ever revisit a page, I might put a red underline on a past page if it was interesting.
Then, when I’m looking to harvest ideas, I flip through pages and think about the areas marked in red. I’m trying to use James Webb Young’s idea of combining old ideas into new ones, which I talked about that in episode 13.
I find ways to mix what I’m reading about my past with whatever I’m thinking about now. For example, I’m currently writing a lot about Apple’s Vision Pro, GitHub Copilot, and large language models. I try to recontextualize some of those ideas to these new topics.
Another thing that I started to do only became possible because I started prompting my morning pages, which I talked about in episode 19 a few weeks ago.
In the past, for me, and I think for a lot of people who do morning pages, they’re not really worth reading later, which is totally fine because the point of doing them is to do them to train yourself to write on demand. They’re not that interesting after you’ve done them.
But now that I’m prompting my morning pages, I sometimes have half a page or maybe a full page of somewhat useful writing. In the moment I don’t want to stop and think too much. I’ll just put an asterisk on the left side margin or a quick underline, and then as soon as I’m done with my morning pages, I go back with a red pen and circle those areas.
This is for my future self to be able to harvest later.
Try this at home
So here’s what I’d like you to try. Go to the last journal that you finished. Maybe it’s on your shelf and get a pen that’s a different color from the one you worked with and just go through it page by page and mark it in a simple way (an underline or an asterisk) with this colored pen. Mark anything that you think might be interesting and then go through it again and try to capture these ideas into something a little more permanent. I try to write a small note in Obsidian and then link to it in my topic list for a future blog post. You should do whatever works for you.
Try to imagine that this journal will not exist after you’ve harvested it and try to get the interesting ideas into something a little more permanent and accessible and something that you’ll look at over and over again over time.
Thanks for listening this has been Write While True, a podcast where we’re okay with infinite loops as long as they’re fun.