What is it about the written word? What makes it so powerful?

Moses did not come back down from Mount Sinai having had a five-minute chat with the Supreme Being.


Apparently, he spent a couple of days up there while the Almighty himself wrote the commandments down on two tablets of stone. Presumably, the fact that these imprecations were personally carved all the way through the stone (leaving miraculous, unattached floaty bits in the middle of certain letters, we’re told) and were thus legible from both sides, rendered these rules non-negotiable. [I love that ancient joke of Moses coming down the mountain with the two tablets shouting, “I got Him down to 10 guys, but adultery is still on the list!”]

All through human history, we have revered the oral tradition and paid homage to those who have the “Gift of the Gab.” But there is something about the written word …

From the earliest cave paintings, through clay tablets, papyrus sheets, hieroglyphs etched on pyramid walls, stretched goat skin, to modern pulp paper, the written word has always had a sense of … permanent importance … about it.

What was Benjamin Franklin’s solution to a thorny problem? Brain dump – write it down, define it and then put a line down the middle of the page and balance up the pros and cons.

What’s the first rule of survival in the academic arena? “Publish or perish.” If they can’t see your ideas on paper, peer-reviewed, with a high confidence level to the statistical analysis, the Nobel Academy ain’t listening.

I carry a Jiminy Cricket in my coat pocket. It’s a Moleskine notebook. For day-to-day, must-remember stuff, I now use the dictaphone facility on my mobile phone and drop the little recordings into my iTunes library under various headings.

So, the Moleskine has moved on from being my primary to-do listing tool. Now it’s for bigger stuff – I call them “To achieve by lists.” And they are eerily powerful. I don’t share or discuss them with anyone, but they might as well be tablets of stone with miraculous, unattached floaty bits of letters on them. They are that powerful. They give me just a little bit more structure and urgency to accomplishing some of the little drudge tasks that we all have to put up with and they also serve as a constant mnemonic – my own mute Jiminy Cricket – toward some fairly significant future steps.

Try it. Jot a few specific things down on a sheet of paper and stick it in your wallet or purse. Quantify the items and, more importantly, date-limit them. I have five to complete by the 3oth of June. Four of them are sorted, but the fifth is lagging badly because of a plague of ill-health in the family. Thankfully, my Moleskine hasn’t burst into a chorus of When You Wish Upon A Star … yet.