It started with a marble: a life of writing things down
In the beginning
It was March 1977, I was eight years old. One day at school I swallowed a marble. I wrote a three page story all about it, ‘An hour to remember’. It included my mother’s reaction, the trip to hospital, what happened next.
I think of it as my very first blog post ;)
Except that of course we didn’t have the internet to distribute my story, so my father photostatted the pages at his office, posting copies off to aunts and uncles around the country.
I saw then the power of a good story, how I could entertain with words. It sparked a desire to write down what’s been going on in my life. Notes, lists and love letters. There were teenage lists of gigs I attended, records I owned and books I read.
A teenage diary in addition to a scrapbook of my month-long rail trip, at 18, around Europe. I still have it, a compilation of photos and ticket stubs sit alongside a journal entry for each day.
Filed in a Filofax
And then as a working adult — starting my career in the 1990s — everything went into the obligatory Filofax.
Here is a page from July 1995 with its details of meetings, social engagements and things to do. Pay the electricity bill, fax a friend in Australia, meetings — it all goes in the Filofax! It made me smile how many phone calls I made back then — my 1995 pages are peppered with reminders to phone friends and organise nights out.
Later in the 1990s the Filofax got replaced by the electronic Psion organiser. And — for a few years at least — the handwritten jottings stopped.
A guide for life
Then post-2000 I started notebooks again. One notebook from 2003 lives in my bedside cabinet so I can flick through it easily, just because I like it. In it are notes I made on the book The Work We Were Born To Do, observations on characters around the pool on holiday in Kalkan, Turkey, journal entries from first dates with my wife Zoë.
An essential tool for staying on track
Fifteen years later and I’m still notetaking. It’s been essential to keep me on track — in the world of work I’ve carved out for myself, my career doesn’t fit into neat LinkedIn boxes. Writing stuff down has helped me know where I’m headed professionally.
Notebooks come with me everywhere. They’re an amalgamation of overheards, ideas, thoughts, tips, quotes, clippings I’ve read or seen, things I’ve liked. Reflections on a train ride to Edinburgh, musings in a coffee shop in Amsterdam, or while sipping a gin and tonic on a flight home from speaking at a conference.
I cannot underestimate the benefit of all this information.
When I go back through these notes I made years ago, it’s a process of self-archaeology. I’m digging to uncover my previous self, scraping back the layers of my life: child, teen, young adult.
Unearthing these gems have provided me with an understanding of my purpose on this planet — all these years later. Even in the pages of my scrapbook of my 1986 trans-European adventure, I can uncover the essence of the person I am now. Reading my notes back then, I feel the spirit and energy of that teenager I was. His skin is mine, what makes him tick underneath is barely any different, and that’s reassuring.
A light in the dark
And then, they’ve been like a light in the dark when, from time to time, my working life had felt precarious.
Working as an independent means lots of freedom, but not so much certainty. But freedom is essential to me, and I’d become comfortable with my precarious situation. So in December 2018 I’d given myself a birthday present, to go to Amsterdam to see Johnny Marr play live, and to do what I love doing most — walk around one of my favourite cities thinking and scribbling ideas.
Here’s an entry from that celebratory trip. I’m sitting in a favourite cafe of mine, Café De Pels. I journaled about how I realised that life doesn’t get better than this — designing a life around me.
It was a powerful moment of reflection. I had tuned into who I am and what makes me tick. “What’s the next adventure?” I wrote. “Bring it on!”
Advice I’d given myself
Many people journal for personal reasons — but what’s been key for me is how my notebooking habit has given me practical advice for navigating my working life. Tips and ideas I’ve written down years ago have proved helpful time and time again.
In the first lockdown of Spring 2020 I went through them all, plundering them for ideas. I discovered I had 27 notebooks, most of them pocket sized Moleskine ones with a softback cover and lined pages.
In these pages I discovered nuggets on something so simple: how to live. I’d captured moments of clarity about what really matters in my life. During the pandemic, when life was upended and we couldn’t travel, the pages of these books gave me the fuel I needed. And I felt keenly that what was helpful to me could be helpful to others.
And so, I poured all of this into my new book 365 Ways To Have a Good Day — and like the marble story all those years ago, the book is full of stories to bring the tips and ideas alive.
We’re not so very different to our younger selves, sometimes we just need to pay attention to those elements and ideas that are key to us. My 27 notebooks have helped me do that, and I believe that what I’ve learned can help others too.
365 Ways to Have a Good Day by Ian Sanders is out now in the UK and most international markets. It’s published in the US in Canada March 2022. Available for pre-order wherever you buy your books.