On Keeping a Notebook Next to Your Bed

By Madeleine C., age 19

I just finished my freshman year of college a few months ago, and there were a couple accidental but ultimately incredibly useful habits engendered in me by a somewhat unusual cause: the arrangement of my dorm room furniture.

You see, in my bedroom at home, I have a small nightstand right next to my bed—one usually filled with a couple trinkets, my alarm clock, and at least two glasses my parents really wish I would bring downstairs already.

But also on it are a stack of old, almost entirely unused journals.

You see, I’m not really one for journal writing. I’ve made one or two attempts to start journaling, but it didn’t get that far. I know it’s different for a lot of people, but for me, it always seemed kind of redundant. Also, the journals on my nightstand were in one case maybe more decorative than useful, and in the other, leather-bound. (It was a gift. I’m anti-leather. Call me a hippie, but I feel vaguely guilty whenever I use it, so I don’t.)

So I never really used any of the journals sitting next to me as I slept, all throughout middle school and high school. And I maybe regret that, a bit—I think it might be connected to the fact that I don’t write nearly as often as I should. And I still don’t use them very often, but I’m trying to change that. I’m trying to consciously form the habit of doing at home what I did at school, thanks to the arrangement of my dorm furniture.

Dorm rooms are really freaking tiny most of the time. (Side note: all the movies are telling filthy lies about how nice dorm rooms look. Those scenes in Pitch Perfect? Yeah, never.) So in my dorm room last year, my bed was in the left-hand corner, and squished up against it was my desk, right under the window. The effect was that if I laid down on my pillow and faced the rest of the room, I was looking directly at the surface of my desk, which conveniently came about three or four inches above the surface of my bed, which was only so tall because of the help of my mattress pad.

Now here’s the thing about college (or at least, about my college experience): It’s super busy. Like, more hectic than any protracted period of time I had ever experienced in my life until then. So I had a lot of thoughts (as one hopes, when at college), and specifically, I had a lot of those “late night, technically morning, trying to fall asleep when all of a sudden something super important hits me and crap now I’m going to have an even harder time falling asleep because I’m worried I’ll forget it in the morning” thoughts.

At least in my experience, the only cure for those is to write them down. And since my desk and lamp and pens and post-its were all so close I didn’t even have to sit up all the way to get them, that’s what I did.

I really hope I never kept my roommate up with this, because there were definitely times when I was turning on the light three, four, even five times a night to frantically grab a post-it and stick it down next to my alarm clock. Then in the morning, I’d wake up to a short, disconnected line of neon orange post-its proclaiming in scrawls of various sizes, “SUBMIT WRITING RESPONSE” or “CALL LIN” or “Remember to buy more chap stick, seriously, oww.”

Most often, however, those post-its were filled with writing ideas. Something about the low-obligation format of scrawling on half-size post-its made it easier to write down my ideas when I had them—especially with no risk of waking myself up. My sleep schedule was bad enough without me frequently staying up an extra half hour writing, frankly, so it’s better for me to come back to it in the day, with a plan to write. The problem being that, with a few exceptions, I tend to have most of my ideas and feel most driven to write late at night when I’m trying to fall asleep and the barriers in my mind are down.

Part of the other incentive for me was the cause of the majority of the little midnight notes-to-self. Namely, I’m an active member of my college’s Speech and Debate Team (well, Speech Team, anyway), and recutting and rewriting speeches and thinking of new jokes for my comedic speech and figuring out delivery and characterization was a yearlong, continuing effort.

This extracurricular ended up being a huge catalyst for this habit. Given that I’m in fact super competitive and driven to write better and speak better and do better in tournaments, I ended up having a lot of ideas that stuck in my head until I laid down to go to sleep. This was not helped by the fact that I usually practiced speech late-ish at night.

Those post-its ended up containing, whether for speech or for my own prose or poems, some of the best writing ideas I had all year—and in fact, many of them, I would have actually completely forgotten if I hadn’t tried fit way too much text, gradually shrinking, on those half-size post-its, frequently smudged at the bottom or continuing on the back.

It’s a good habit for me. I want to be more intentional about doing it in the future, both at home and at school. And if you (like me) are one of the many people who wishes you wrote more, then try it some time. Who knows, it might be a good habit for you too!