Fellow writer friends of mine have talked about how ideas seem to attack them at random. It’s as if this happens constantly and if they don’t stop what they’re doing immediately, they will forget their bolt of inspiration and it will be gone forever.
I’d like to say that I was the same. Having an unending stream of ideas, useful or not, would be a welcome change. Personally, I get an oddball or unique idea maybe two or three times a week, sometimes as many as six. Nothing like the torrent of ideas that my fellow creatives seem to be getting.
Since my ideas don’t come all that often, I have yet to swerve to the side of the road and madly race through the contents of my car to find a suitable piece of paper to jot the idea down before it deserts me for a more worthy creative person. I think the worst I’ve done is wait for a red light and then use speech-to-text to make a note of whatever crazy my brain has cooked up.
Every once in a while something good will float to the surface as I’m trying to fall asleep. These are the hardest ideas to snatch because, frankly, I really want to sleep. As much as I am convinced I will remember in the morning. I never do. Bizarro dream notes I leave myself are even worse. I have one that reads, “Space wet ware, Matt Damon.” The only memory attached is that the idea was a brilliant piece of sci-fi. There may or may not have been a potato involved. If any of you can figure that one out, let me know.
The problem I’ve had for years is how to organize these ideas. Some people have dedicated binders and index cards and computer files that hold the fluff of their brilliance. Others are happy with a box of torn napkins and old receipts covered in scribbles.
I’ve tried all sorts of books, binders, card files, computer files, and never found a good system that worked for me. Either I can’t find what I written or I don’t want to take the time to transcribe things back and forth to different places.
So, when Todd Henry, author and host of the Accidental Creative podcast, talked about how he organizes his ideas – it sounded perfect. The specific episode, I think…, was “The Power of Little Ideas (with David Robertson).”
Here’s how it works –
The first part if obvious. Always carry something to write your ideas down on. He uses index cards, that didn’t work for me. I use the notepad feature on my phone because heaven knows I won’t lose it. When I get an idea, I jot down the basic gist. All the ideas go into the same note so they are all in the same place. These ideas can also include books I need to read or shows someone has recommended I watch.
Once a week, or when the list gets too long, I sit down at my desk and copy out the ideas into a composition book. Yes, I know I said I don’t like transcription, but this feels different. Why not a computer file, you ask? Brilliant question. The act of writing it out by hand and having it all organized in a permanent, undeletable, low tech place, brings a tremendous amount of reassurance that the idea is safe.
It was at this point Todd Henry’s podcast pushed me in the right direction. He suggests creating a series of indexes in the front of the notebook to organize all the ideas into useful groups. As I copy my ideas into the book, I sort them into categories and place a heading or brief blurb in the index. If the idea has lots of elements I would like to explore, I write the page number where I have done so in the index.
Most of my ideas fit into the blurb space so I don’t usually have to turn pages to find what I am looking for. The categories I use include: blog post ideas, short story concepts, agents to contact, problems that need addressing in my current work in progress, and media to watch/read.
I find when I pay attention to ideas and take care of them, more ideas will come my way. When I ignore them, I tend to notice them less and less. Now when I’m considering what I should write next, I have a book with at least a dozen interesting things to explore.
How do you organize your ideas? Share in the comments below!