Search & Replace Episode S01E14: August Birch

Author August Birch is constantly looking for and coming up with new ideas to write about. As a professional idea generator, that can be hard to keep track of in your head. August solves that problem by keeping a “Squirrel Notebook” to help him access the idea-generating part of his brain – he keeps all of his ideas in one place and he never runs out of inspiration for content. Learn how his Squirrel Notebook works on Search and Replace.

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Announcer: [00:00:00] Support for the following podcast is provided by the user experience specialists at Johns and Taylor. More information follows this episode. 
Joe Taylor: [00:00:10] You know the tools and auto mechanic would use to work on your car. Can you guess the tool a book mechanic would use to work on your ideas? I'm Joe Taylor, Jr. This is Search and Replace.
Author August Birch writes crime thrillers on top of the dozen how to books he's released over the past few years. And as the Book Mechanic, he's constantly looking for ideas. Trouble is when you're a professional idea generator, all that inspiration can become a little hard to keep track of. 
August Birch: [00:00:42] I'm a content junkie per se. So I pull a lot of ideas from disparate, different places and I try and put them together. And usually I get an aha moment. I create a lot of content, so I don't usually know what I'm going to write until that day, or maybe a couple of days before.
 I take ideas from podcasts and books and videos. I'm always afraid of losing an idea, and we get our best ideas from when our bodies are in motion. Our brains love motion and being at a desk is actually one of the worst ways to come up with new things. So I'm always out moving and that leads to recording things in a whole bunch of different places, little scraps paper, I have a digital recorder in my car. And a lot of times I just lose these things cause I have them all over the place.
So my before picture was not a good situation. I would lose a lot of great ideas just by forgetting where I had written them down.
Joe Taylor: [00:01:44] So after getting frustrated by all those recordings and scraps of paper, August turned to a really simple tool to get his idea engine humming again. 
August Birch: [00:01:53] I didn't exactly invent this idea, but I kind of made it my own. It's called the distraction journal, which is another idea based off a commonplace notebook but they're not quite the same. And I call it a squirrel notebook. Based on the movie Up where there's the dog with the translation collar. And he always says, squirrel, whenever he sees a squirrel. And when you're distracted, like I am, you have all kinds of ideas in your mind all the time. And I leave this notebook out and, basically, whenever I'm listening or absorbing content this notebook sits on my lap. It's one central repository. 
Joe Taylor: [00:02:30] August's squirrel notebook has taken on such an important role in his daily life, it's even helping him get more things done. 
August Birch: [00:02:36] This thing also can be part to do list, and other things that don't matter as much. So I've made very few rules for this, except for I date the page. And if I have an aha moment on the page, I will code them for later. I'll put book idea and I'll circle that and I draw a lot of pictures of arrows and things. Or article idea, part of a course. I'll make these, kind of, bucket general categories to the notes, but I try not to curate as I capture. Curation comes later. So that's the kind of beauty of this notebook. 
Maybe once a week, I will go through the notebook. And so I'll curate aha moments or the really best nuggets of information from this book. And I'll take them out and I'll put them where they belong, but I don't ever like to edit while I'm doing that. I never make a judgment on an idea until later. Tons of the ideas are terrible, but I don't try and judge it as I'm capturing it. 
Joe Taylor: [00:03:33] In all, the squirrel notebook has sped up August's process so he can keep up with the demands of his growing audiences. 
August Birch: [00:03:40] So  can take an idea from here and here and here, and I'll put three together and I'll be able to make an article idea in just a few minutes and I can have an outline for an article where it might've taken me a few hours before. And I've also been able to put together different steps for courses and things that I want to do based on content I get and it's much quicker. Everything is faster because I have this one place from I'm recording the best stuff.
And one of the biggest things that's helped me is that I'm able to focus more when I am doing the work in flow. Because it's, like, I say the squirrel notebook idea is like a dust pan for your mind because you don't have to remember all these random thoughts. You just dumped them out in any order you wish, there's no real rules. And then there they are. They're recorded. You can always come back and delete them later. So I really have been able to focus a lot more on one project at a time when I am actually doing the writing. 
Joe Taylor: [00:04:44] As August whittles down the list of the very best ideas. There's one more paper product he pulls into the mix that helps him combine inspiration from a couple sources.
August Birch: [00:04:54] In addition to this notebook, I'm working on the idea of taking durable notes in general. And on a daily basis, I try to take at least one durable note on a three by five card. You take a piece of content, or something you've just listened to her read. And, in your own words, you write down what you learned from it. You don't maybe record a quote, but you record what you learned from that piece of content. And then once you have a collection of durable notes, you can shuffle them and put them together. And you might have three from completely different places and that will create a new piece of content or a new idea.
And it's all, I just like different techniques and try it and spark ideas that haven't existed before. Or taking to successful things and putting them together and making a third, newer successful thing. 
There are great ideas in the places you wouldn't normally look for them. And it's important to absorb content outside of your niche to come up with great ideas to serve your audience, because there's successes elsewhere that you can grab ideas and bring them back into your niche and to help the people that you serve.
Joe Taylor: [00:06:11] That's August Birch. His latest thriller is called The Barrel, and it's destined to keep you up at night. We've got links to that book and do all August's tips and courses for creative writers over at our show notes page at 
Also in today's show notes, there's some scientific evidence that explains why ideas resonate more in your mind when you write them down and why gathering ideas on a computer doesn't work quite as well for most people. You'll find all that in more on our website at 
Search and Replace was produced by Nicole Hubbard with support from Christine Benton, Connie Evans, Amelia Lohmann, April Smith, and Executive Producer Lori Taylor. Our theme music was composed by Alex Refire. I'm Joe Taylor, Jr.
Announcer: [00:07:04] This has been a Podcast Taxi radio production. 
Support for Search and Replace is provided by Johns and Taylor, user experience specialists serving media and technology companies that want their websites to work. Learn more about how top performing businesses eliminate barriers between customers and their goals at

Joe Taylor Jr. has produced stories about media, technology, entertainment, and personal finance for over 25 years. His work has been featured on NPR, CNBC, Financial Times Television, and ABC News. After launching one of public radio's first successful digital platforms, Joe helped dozens of client companies launch or migrate their online content libraries. Today, Joe serves as a user experience consultant for a variety of Fortune 500 and Inc. 5000 businesses. Twitter | Facebook | Instagram

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