benjamin alexander smith

Go Analogue!

Travel can be wasted time, but it can also be a fruitful session that is hidden amidst an otherwise dreary part of the day. Some use it for work, some use it to read or to listen to music.  I like to use it to set aside the time to let my mind wander, pull out my trusty notebook, and dump my thoughts onto the page.

Let me tell you: nothing that you can use with a keyboard, mouse, touchscreen or otherwise will compare to the sheer creative force of a pen and paper.

Whenever I’m feeling creative, or whenever I would like to be feeling creative, nothing spurs me on like a crisp, blank page stretched out before me. Open a notebook, take a pen in your hand, and wait. When I see that yawning expanse of emptiness and know that I alone am expected to fill it, it flicks a switch in my mind. It somehow reaches inside me, drawing my creative energy into my fingers, through my pen and out into the world.

If it all sounds too simple, too easy—or even beautiful, somehow—then let me assure you that it is most certainly not. When that inky wave of energy hits the page, hurling itself against the white, narrow-ruled cliffs, it is nothing but flotsam and jetsam. All that lies before you is a tangle of half-formed ideas: themes that have yet to become a symphony.

But the themes are present.

Start with an idea, sketch it out, and begin to brainstorm. Don’t worry about structures or links; get the fragments onto the page in whichever way you see fit. If you find yourself grouping thoughts together, going back up the page to add new ideas, drawing lines or even scribbling things out, then go with it. Let your ideas flow, but don’t try to line them up too neatly. Elaborate on the initial thoughts when you can think of something clever, but move on to new pastures if you can’t.

Before you know it, you’ll have a burgeoning mess of ideas. Some will be good, some will not. Some will drive you from one page to the next. Some will prompt you to rush off on a tangent or push you in a direction you hadn’t considered. Others will stop dead and be left hanging in the air like an awkward silence. It doesn’t matter: another thought will soon take their place and fill the page with easygoing chatter.

Later on, the next time you sit down to work on something seriously, you will find yourself forearmed with a slew of thought-provoking prompts to help you out. You already have a way around the writers’ block, a hint for when you run out of steam, or a gentle push towards your next great piece of work.

Pen and paper have helped me to achieve a great many things over the years. Whiteboards have done the same. Without ink, I wouldn’t have thought up BritishBonus or Surely Not!, projects which ended up paying for my degree. Without a notebook, I wouldn’t have come up with the killer slogans and core messages behind the Warwick Atheists society. Without a whiteboard, I wouldn’t have passed any of my final year exams.

Getting offline and using our hands inspires something primal, something creative that has existed since we made our first tools and painted our first caves. Try it: you’ll be pleasantly surprised.