Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Post-it Notes. Civilization defined.

Lo, the humble Post-it Note. My vote for one of the great hallmarks of civilization. Such an amazing little thing and so necessary. I can't imagine how we ever got along without them.

You know the story, right? How Spencer Silverman of the 3M Company had invented a "low tack" adhesive that didn't seem to be very useful. Nobody wanted it. But a fellow scientist at 3M, Art Fry, needed a way to temporarily attach bookmarks to the pages of his hymnal (no word on whether he was an organist or something) and used some of Spencer's "failed" adhesive to do it. It worked so well, he proposed making pads of little repositional "notes" to use as memos. Initially, another division had lots of scrap yellow paper and they used it to make pads of the notes. Voila. A legend was born.

Interestingly, as ubiqutous and ever-present as the notes are now, they were kind-of slow to catch on. Who wanted memos, they said, that stuck-- but not very hard? They were first produced in the 80's but didn't make it big until the 90's. . . when they took off and have now become part of our culture. What does it say about us as a culture/civilization that we love the temporary sticky-note so much and find it so useful?

Those little sticky notes have been used to slip notes to presidents in high-level international negotiations and to decorate office mates caught sleeping on the job. Everything from serious notations in legal cases to comedy sketches and scenes in movies. My most recent scene was in the Josh Hartnett movie about lovers with Asperger's Syndrome, "Mozart and The Whale". . . a great scene, as unexpected as it is funny and poignant.

I confess, you'll find Post-it's peeking out of the pages of many of the books in my library. I use them constantly to mark interesting/useful passages. . . so much neater than underlining or highlighting. And since I often share books or pass them along to others, I have left the text pristine for others to read without having to slog through my defacements.

I also use them to sop up messy inspirations that occur in places that make them hard to capture. I keep a pad in my purse and jot things down while waiting for an oil change or in a doctor's office or even driving down the road. Yes, it's risky, but I have been known to attach a pad to the center of the steering wheel on long trips and jot down the ideas that leak out of my brain.

I even use them to plot books. Somewhere after the introduction of a book, I sit down with a stack of larger Post-it pads (the 4x4's) and start jotting down scenes and actions I want to include. . . stream of consciousness style. Just let it all flow. And in a later session, I lay them all out around me and start putting them up on a blank wall in various orders that may or may not make sense. I arrange and rearrange and see where gaps occur. . . I brainstorm to fill the gaps with. . . you guessed it. . . more Post-it notes filled with ideas. As the story is written, I take Post-its off the wall when each idea or scene is completed. By the end of the book, I have a blank wall again!

Lately, space is at a premium, so all of the notes get transferred (in order, of course) to a cardboard display board from Staples. Which I leave against the wall in my study and consult regularly. Sticky notes still get torn off when the scene or action is written.

Then there are the usual grocery lists-- which I stick to my purse or the car dash or the buggy handle. And reminders and "to do" lists. I have even stuck one to the dog and sent him to my sig other with a message! Okay, admittedly I'm a little obsessed with office supplies. . . always have been. There's just something about pads of paper and new pens and folders and desk gadgets. . .

Now, of course, the patents have run out and there are lots of "repositional notes" on the market now. All shapes and sizes and colors. Some with funny sayings. . . my sister got me a pad some years ago that says "Eat, Drink, and Re-marry." Post-it humor. You gotta love it.

What about you? Do you love Post-it Notes as much as I do? How do you use them? Do they help in your writing/reading? I'm giving away a package of my favorite Post-it's to a commenter. . . so you writers, get it there and post a note!


Laney4 said...

If I didn't have Post-It Notes, my life wouldn't be as organized!

While I'm reading, I stick Post-It Notes to the fronts of books from authors who blog. I write down what I liked or didn't like so that I can pass on the info in my blog responses. I even include page numbers of typos in case authors have their books reproduced later.

Post-Its are used as bookmarks in cookbooks so that I know which recipes to try before typing them out on my computer. (I have a Word file with all my "keeper" recipes on it -- I keep only those recipes that rank 8.5/10 or higher in my household.) Needless to say, I may never get those Post-It Notes out of some of the books!

I could go on and on, but I'll spare you this time. It's my B-Day today, so I need to get ready for company. My DH is BBQ'ing lunch and I'm providing tons of leftovers as supper for our friends. (I cooked tons of delicious food the last few days. My GF is a self-proclaimed "terrible cook", so any remnants they get here are greatly appreciated. I just want to clean out my fridge, NOT COOK, and have a relaxing day with our friends. It's a win-win situation for all of us!)

I'm looking forward to reading other uses for our beloved Post-It Notes. (You/I can't have enough!)Thanks for a great blog topic today.

Helen Brenna said...

LOL, Betina. I love post-it notes. They're all over my desk. Phone numbers, things I need to do. Confirm #s. I use one daily to put down my word count goals.

And I love your idea to use the cardboard display. It's right up my ally. I'm going out, buying one tonight, and trying it on the book I just started!

KylieBrant said...

I am so impressed with your story board of post it notes! That might be story organization that I can handle!

I'm a neon post-it note gal. No canary yellow or pastels for me. And isn't odd how we develop a preference for something as ordinary as our notepads?

lois greiman said...

Laney, happy birthday! May you be blessed with post it notes. :)

I'm with ya, Betina. The ever helpful post it. Love me a colorful paper clip, too.

Michele Hauf said...

I adore Post-Its. I recently got a cool set of them that had a Paris motif and were in all different sizes. Joy! My fav, though, is the post-it highlighter pen. You can highlight, then pull out a post-it bookmark to mark that page. Genius!

Now I'm curious if the colors on your boards have specific meanings, Betina? The pink looks most urgent!

Leanne said...

Betina, I use post-its for plotting too. I have used a story board, but I found a giant post-it calendar that works really well too. I enjoy all colors except white.:) My super fave thing is notebooks. I love buying a new notebook. One of my recent notebooks featured Wonder Woman on the cover. I was hoping for inspiration.

Linda Henderson said...

I love Post-its, in all different colors. I leave notes about errands I need to run, grocery items, phone numbers, websites to check out, I use them everywhere. I like to leave notes for my grandkids with them to tell them I love and miss them, even though I see them very frequently.

Kathleen Eagle said...

Betina, what a what a timely post. It. I just removed my granddaughter's Post-it creation from my desk lamp. She made a little curtain all around the edge because the light was too bright and the lamp needed "some decoration." I kept it until the paper started to curl. If I leave a Post-it pad within reach, they'll come up with a new use for it.

Terry Odell said...

I use the same story board system. Right now, all my supplies, including my story board and post-its are in storage, soon to wend their way from Florida to Colorado. I can't wait.

robynl said...

I LOVE Post-It notes; the colors are bright and cheery and some are fancy and decorative.

I have a Post-It holder that is a red purse with pop-up post its and I love it. It can be refilled also.

I use them for reminders to pay bills, call someone, make an appointment, mark my place in a book, etc. They are so handy!!!

Kathleen Eagle said...

Speaking of ... okay, I can't think of a connection, but my sister just e-mailed me with a heads-up on a documentary she's been raving about--Oscar nominated--called "Food, Inc" that will be aired on PBS for the first time Apr 21 (tomorrow night). I think Michele might have mentioned it. We've talked about food here a time or ten, and my sister says it's must-see. You can see a trailer at

Christie Ridgway said...

A giant Post-it calendar? Must find one!

I've tried using them for storyboarding, using the double closet doors in my office as the board. Too big, I think. That's why that calendar sounds good.

Post-it reminders are stuck to the glass (plastic) in the frames that hold my bookcovers that are mounted on the wall beside my desk. That way they don't get lost in the clutter =on= the desk!

ForestJane said...

I use post-its a lot at work, but never at home.

The idea of plotting a book on a display board is a good one, especially the different colors.

I think I'd use a different color for each character, then maybe a totally different style note for major events involving multiple characters.

That way I'd easily see where the main events are, and could arrange my character revelations on the timeline before or after events.

Thanks for the idea, Betina!

Betina Krahn said...

Thanks guys, for chiming in while I was gone today! I'm fascinated by these little sticky things. And I'm relieved to hear I have some comrades in the car with the same office supply fetish. Notebooks. Yeah, baby.

Meanwhile, let me expand on the color scheme on my board. A color is chosen for each character's pov, problem flow, and issues, and another for the developmentof the romance. Each scene is assigned a color based on which character's problem is being dealt with and the action is written on the postit and posted. I can see at a glance the clusters of color that show that a character is hogging the story or indicate that a plot thread is being neglected.

Sometimes one of the characters is a villain, but in some of my books there isn't a a bad guy or gal causing trouble. So sometimes it's an historical event that has to be played out or a sub-plot or a secondary romance. That character or event or subplot or secondary romance gets its own color, too. And there may be even a color for backstory if it's really deep and involved.

Depending on the book, I may have five or seven or more colors. (Makes for a rainbow of action!)

The cool thing is, you can assign whatever color you want to whatever you're trying to track and let the color show you the flow of things in your story. You make it your own system. . . whatever helps you see the flow of the story.

A writer I know (whom I've brainstormed with using a board like this and postit notes) uses it to do the Michael Hague thing. . . 10% call to action, then 25% first turning point, then 50% point of no return, then 75% dark moment, then 90% the resolution and ending. The danged thing worked at pretty much those percentages!

Terry Odell said...

Just in case anyone wants to see how I used my tracking system, I ran a series on my blog, but that would take some searching! However, I have a workshop style handout on my website, called "Plotting for Non-Plotters." I'll be doing a workshop on the system at the Emerald City Writers Conference in October.