Over the past day or so, I’ve been picking through a book called Stop with the BS by Shane Mac.

It’s an interesting book. Written in 24 hours on a train from Seattle to San Francisco, it feels more like a blog post than a Book, but that’s appropriate for what it is. Very stream of conscious, following the route his mind takes as he rides the train.

Even though it was written in 24 hours, it’s the kind of book I want to read slowly. As of this writing, I’ve had it for a day, and yet I’m only a few pages in part because I’ve already started to implement one of the ideas.

Buy a notebook, number the pages, take notes on everything that’s worth remembering (including your own thoughts), and then index the notebook.

Shane Mac recommends for indexing your notebook this way:

When you finish a page, take a moment and write down key points on that page in the bottom right hand corner of the page (or somewhere that is easy to find).

Go to the front cover and write what is on that page and place the page number next to it. Don’t worry about re-writing another line if you use more than one page for the same book or project as you can just add more page numbers next to that topic.

What he is advocating here essentially is tagging entries with keywords and then turning those keywords into an index.

This is how I do it.

Every time I complete an entry, I create a record of what it is at the beginning of the notebook, a sort of table of contents.

Right now it looks like this:

Journal ……… 1-3

Then I do what he does, choosing keywords for each entry and writing down the page numbers the way you would for an index, but instead of writing them into the notebook, I keep this record on a piece of paper tucked into the folder in the back of the book. When I’m done with the notebook, I’ll alphabetize the keywords and page numbers to make a real index.

Like this:

Amanda Palmer: 1
Annotation: 4, 6-13, 14-15, 111-113
Chekhov: 4
Composing a Life: 111-113
Stop with the BS: 117-118
When Women Were Birds: 17
The Dream Life of Toby McClure: 37-81, 98
Writing: 16, 17, 19, 21, 96, 97, 102, 110-111, 121-122, 123

That’s a lot of work. Is it worth it?

Honestly, it might not be for you. If you’re the kind of person who keeps a very neat diary that only covers one subject or is a record of your life that methodically one day to the next, I can’t imagine what you would possibly need something like this for. Unless you’re like my great grandmother, who used to like to write the day’s weather on the calendar every day.

As for me, I’ve been journaling for a long time. The journals on this shelf start in 2007, but there’s a box somewhere in a closet that goes back to when I was in middle school.

Words. Words. Words. All of these words thrown on a shelf and never seen again, lost to me for a very stupid reason: I had no way of knowing what would happen when I opened them. Would I immediately stumble on gold, or would have to wade through twenty pages of snot-soaked whining before I found anything actually interesting?

It took me an afternoon to index my current journal, but after only an hour or so, I could tell that I wasn’t just coordinating my paperclip collection. I was actually creating something.

Every journal is a book waiting to be born.

I stumbled on a copy of Virginia Woolf’s journal a couple of months ago at the library. Even in the few moments I spent flipping through the book I could tell that the journal knew that it was a book all along. (At least, the editor who compiled it was very good at making it seem like it knew it was a book all along.) Each entry was a neatly contained narrative, and the entries flowed like a novel developing through time.

My journals aren’t like that. They’re disorganized and unruly. They take wild leaps from short story concepts to recipes to notes about the weather.

And yet, something magical happened when I went through a nearly completed journal and started indexing. I began to notice distinct threads that are picked up and put down, returned to, developed, forgotten, and remembered again. It isn’t an aria, but there’s a song there nonetheless.

Without knowing it, I’ve been writing a book for myself, and organizing it like a book transformed it from 190 pages of data into something that I just might maybe want to return to again.