God only knows when I started writing things down. On scraps of paper, the edge of newspapers, on anything that was handy. I’d misplace them long before I read what was so important at the time. Things had to change.
I took notes on my first trip abroad. I left my job as a reporter with a medium-sized daily newspaper to spend four months in Europe. I tucked a cheap, lined notebook away in my luggage. It was held together by a spiral of wire.
I added several ballpoint pens and left it at that. Oh, and I bought a map/book of Europe that held sections of the countries so we didn’t have to unfold a whole blooming map-fills-all to see where you were. First stop on the Atlantic crossing was Le Havre. I marked it down with the date, as I would do with the whole trip.
I also began jotting down what interested me about the places and people we visited. Descriptions, off-beat facts. And odd things, like the bridge at Avignon that stops halfway across the Rhone. My buddy introduced ourselves to anyone who’d talk to us. Or give us directions. He’d I’m say I’m Barney Clarke and he’s Clarke Wallace. We would get a smile , a nod and the inevitable reply, “Oh, you’re brothers!”
On returning home, I got an assortment of different notebooks to suit my needs. I ended up with the same kind for years. It’s a Blueline with Memo printed on the cover. Lined. Bound, so you couldn’t easily rip out one of its one hundred pages. I put the date on its first and unlined page followed by a dash and the date when it was full.
Have I ever used what I’ve written down? As research? In Steamboat Springs, Colorado, I wrote notes while watchin, and tracking a guy sailing down a 90m ski jump, cornering him later to ask how it felt, in detail. What I learned was used in a thriller, when a character was shot and killed as his skis left the ski jump.
Another occasion was driving back and forth through the Mont Blanc tu connecting France and Italy. I did this several times, using it as a killing ground.
Author’s comment: I’m not suggesting you take a notebook around with you. It helps you be more observant; more aware of what’s going on around you. Glance at a stranger and moments later repeat what they wore, the eye color. The odd mannerism. I guess you’d call it people-watching up close. Practice, and you’ll do it without thinking.