A couple years ago, I started using the Notepad app on my computer, to keep track of my daily to-do list.
As of today, the notepad file contains 3185 words.
I must be on my way to a nervous breakdown, right? Or at least adrenal burnout.
Actually, the truth is closer to this: I couldn’t help but expand The Slop in my life, and let it flow into what was supposed to be a simple, clear roadmap for my daily tasks.
Before I explain why, here’s a quick definition of The Slop:
The unbridled mass of notes and ideas I collect, for future writing.
I grow The Slop on notecards. On my old phone’s app for notetaking. On texts to myself, with my new phone. On Word documents. In notebooks I keep beside my desk and in my backpack. On the backs of receipts. On random pieces of paper that I somehow keep around.
The Slop even extends to open tabs on my computer. Bookmarks in books I haven’t touched in a few years. Swirls of ink on roughed-up notecards that I fish from pants pockets, after I unload them from the dryer. (I just assume those particular manifestations of The Slop were no longer relevant to my life.)
Here’s just one example, that I copied and pasted from my Notepad file:
IDEA: Relationship book: Interview people who are on their 5th marriage
Maybe you could take that idea and run with it? I’ll probably never get around to writing that book, in the form I wrote down. But I’m still glad I made a note of the idea, even in a file that was supposed to be for my schedule.
The Slop makes me a better writer. To be more accurate, it allows me to function as a writer, period. If you’re interested in a writing career or you want to enhance the creativity of your ideas, I suggest you embrace The Slop as well. Here’s how:
- Start amassing little notes and ideas to yourself.
- Write them anywhere.
- Organize them however you like, but prioritize being prolific.
- Allow these notes to flow in and out of your life by putting them in conspicuous places. Do not toss them in the back of a file somewhere, where you’ll never see them.
- Be wary of putting all these notes in a notebook. Notebooks are easily closed, placed on a shelf, and forgotten. I’ve cracked open notebooks 10 years after last writing in them and thought to myself, “Hey these are useful notes. Too bad I didn’t see them earlier.” If you must use notebooks, leave them open. Strew them about. Let The Slop seep all over part of your desk.
- Poke around stuff you don’t give a shit about. When I paced around the UMASS Amherst library shelves, I marveled at the proud stacks of agricultural records (I think that’s what they were). Once, curiosity got the better of me and I cracked one open. Taking in the tiny font… the mass of crispy, frail pages… and the ocean of obscure information… made me lightheaded. I’ve yet to get any creative breakthroughs from what I glanced over (crop yields from 40 years ago?) but the habit is worthwhile. Heck, I gleaned some useful marketing and body language ideas from a book purportedly authored by Paris Hilton.
- Let your brain assemble ideas together. James Altucher calls this Idea Sex. It can produce robust children in the form of better writing.
- Confine The Slop to your notes and ideas. Not your work habits. If other people poke fun at your disorganized desk… fine. If they can legitimately mock your slovenly work habits… not so fine.
When you embrace The Slop, you create a personal environment similar to Steve Jobs’s idea of constructing workplaces where employees from separate departments run into each other, sparking creative breakthroughs. But instead of employees, you’re sparking synergy between your notes, insights, and ideas.
Steve Jobs understood interaction was mandatory. That’s why you can’t contain The Slop. There’s too much risk that your lone ideas will hide away forever.
At the same time, you must have at last one Oasis from The Slop, just as an effective workspace must include areas for undisturbed work. In my case, I can always close my notepad file and all other tabs, except for a single, blank Word document. This is my Oasis to create from the fodder I’ve collected and the synergy it generated. It’s where I form The Slop into Structure.
Now that I’ve done so with this formerly-blank page, I can dismiss the notes I wrote about The Slop on the 3×5 notecard in my right pocket. But I’ll still keep the card around, to make sure The Slop grows.