Paulo Coelho

Yesterday, I was at Paulo Coelho’s blog, reading excerpts from an interview he did with Tim Ferris, and a few points stuck out to me. One of the more notable things about the interview was Coelho’s stance on notetaking. He said:

I use notes to take them out of my head. I will never use them the next day—they will be useless … Forget notetaking. What is important remains, what is not important goes away.

At first I thought, Whatever, to each his own. But then I realized that I, too, end up disregarding whatever notes I’d written for a story or script because, yes, they ultimately are useless.

Please understand that “notes” is not synonymous with “outline.” I’m not a pantser—I can’t just sit down and make the story up as I go along. I have to have an outline in front of me. Even if the story veers off in a different direction, there’s still something guiding me, helping me find my way to the resolution I’ve envisioned.

Jay Fingers' Notebooks

But I am a prodigious notetaker. I have dozens of black and white speckled notebooks, collected and filled over the years with notes on everything from character names and descriptions of settings to plot ideas and titles. And you know what? They’re all sitting in a corner by my desk, unopened, unused, unlooked at. Why?

Because they’re useless.

Sure, there may be some good shit in there somewhere. But evidently that was the problem. There was so much shit in my head that perhaps they cluttered my thoughts. I had to get everything out somehow, so I jotted everything down. And as Coelho said, what was important remained.

I had three full notebooks for my debut novel GUESTLIST. The notebooks had everything, including some really great quotes that I couldn’t wait to insert into my characters’ mouths. You know something? That never happened. Out of all the pages in those notebooks, the only ones I used had my handwritten, bare bones outline of novel on them. That’s it! Since the story was so vivid in my mind, there was no need to go back and try to look up any of the details I’d written down. There was no need to reference any of the notes I’d taken.

What is important remains, what is not important goes away.

I suspect I’ll still buy a new black and white speckled notebook for every new project I begin, just out of sheer habit. I’ve been doing it since the eighth grade—thanks, Mrs. Allen!—so there’s no stopping the practice now. And I’ll probably still jot down my little notes and ideas knowing the likelihood of my using them will be slim.

And my stories will still come out fucking fantastic, as always. Ha!

What’s your take on Coelho’s notetaking stance? Do you agree or disagree? LMK in the comments below.

Photo of Paulo Coelho: Murdo Mcleod

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