In the four decades I did radio shows, driven by the need to constantly have new things to talk about on the air, I made a lot of notes. Ideas had to be jotted down instantly or I’d forget them. Sometimes, I’d think of something I was sure I’d remember, but five minutes later, it had been pushed out of my brain by something else and I couldn’t recover the lost observation.
So, I got into the habit of writing down everything immediately. I’d see something while I was driving and jot it down on a pad hanging from my windshield. At home, I had a legal pad on the table in the living room to make notes about anything that caught my eye on TV. I had another in the kitchen, and another on my nightstand in our bedroom. I even kept a notepad in the bathroom. Very early on in our relationship, my wife was used to seeing little pieces of paper all over the place.
Eventually, I started carrying a mini-cassette recorder, which made note-taking in the car a lot easier. I’d record a reminder, then, when I got to work or back to my house, coalesce my various thoughts into the show prep sheets I typed up before each show.
The tiny tape recorder eventually gave way to a little digital recorder. By that point, my briefcase also contained other electronics (an early cell phone, a Palm PDA) to make my life easier. They were later replaced entirely by the iPhone, which handled all those functions and many more, including a built-in voice memo app. A few years later, I didn’t even have to pick up the device, when Siri became capable of recording my thoughts by voice command, and transcribing them, as well. Of course, Siri didn’t always hear everything correctly (a problem that still exists today), so I couldn’t always rely on the transcriptions.
That had been a problem in the lower-tech days, too, when I’d be unable to decipher something I’d jotted down earlier (e.g. does this say “cork potato beach lamp shade”???). But most of the time, I figured out what my own chicken scratch meant, and then the challenge became turning it into something usable during my show. Much of what you heard me say on the air probably started out that way, although a lot more never made it into the microphone because I winnowed out the stuff that made no sense, wasn’t as funny as I thought it was, or simply didn’t fit into the many topics I discussed that day.
Through all of it, I remembered a story my dad told me. He’d retired from teaching, had published several young adult non-fiction books, and was working on another. I had long since moved away and started my career, so he’d turned my old room into his office. Like me, he had legal pads full of notes and research on whatever his latest topic was all over his desk. Still, he was frustrated, because at the end of the day, when he got in bed, instead of slowing down and letting him fall asleep, his brain kicked into a higher gear and filled with ideas for the book — but he always nodded off before he could go to his office and get them on paper. I suggested he put a notepad and pen next to the bed, and he did.
A couple of days later, he called me, and when I answered the phone, he was laughing hysterically. I asked him what was going on, and said the previous night, he’d awakened from a deep sleep with a great idea, one of those light-bulb-over-your-head moments. He’d reached over, jotted it down and — satisfied that it had not been lost forever — fell back asleep. In the morning, when he woke up, he remembered he’d done that, so he excitedly reached for the pad, and read what he’d written.
The message was a mere two words long: “WRITE BOOK!”