And once you get an idea, how do you make sure it doesn’t float away into the ether?
The simple answer to question number one is that ideas are everywhere. If you subscribe to a daily or weekly newspaper, you’ve got a potential goldmine of ideas right in your hands:
- In the front-page headline news.
- In the troubled lives of people who write to advice columnists.
- In the obituaries.
- In special-interest articles.
- In the op-ed pages.
- In the odd little one-paragraph news items that never make page one.
Become an eavesdropper (politely, of course). I’m not much of a conversationalist, but it’s amazing what you can learn simply by listening to other people talk. Practice the fine art of nodding and smiling and occasionally asking questions to prompt further explanation. One of my acquaintances is heavy into dog shows and obedience training. Another friend is a professional potter. One of my husband’s buddies is a midlife marathoner. Interesting stuff!
Attend classes and lectures. Stretch your brain. Learn something new. This month our church is offering a three-week series on veterans and traumatic brain injury. Who knows? Someday I may decide to write about a character with TBI and how the family copes.
Now we come to the hard part--preserving your ideas so you can access them when you need them.
Here are some methods I’ve tried:
- Notecards filed in a plastic file box by topic (People, Situations, Phrases, Dialogue, Names, Settings, Other Interesting Stuff).
- Hanging folders for newspaper clippings, handouts, maps, brochures, etc., sorted by topic or location.
- A spiral notebook for recording random ideas (I sometimes color-code the entries by type).
- A three-ring binder with dividers, labels, and tabs.
- Computer files and folders.
The problem with these methods is that I’ve ended up with masses of information--clippings, notecards, maps, scraps, files, folders, etc., that may never, ever, EVER see the light of day!
I don’t know why this is. I obviously thought the idea was worth saving, or I wouldn’t have gone to the trouble of sticking it into one of my collection spots. But then time passes, the initial excitement ebbs, and when I’m ready to begin a new story, I find myself thrashing about for newer, fresher ideas.
So . . . confession time . . . I’m not as proactive as I once was about capturing every random idea that comes along. Because if I were to ever actually mine the several and sundry stockpiles cluttering my office and computer hard drive, I would have enough material to write books into the next two millennia!
These days I mainly watch for interesting informational tidbits--as much for story ideas as for adding verisimilitude to ideas I may already be working with. Again, the problem is making sure the information is accessible when I need it. Often the filing cabinet drawer ends up being the best solution, but I try to make sure my tab labels are specific and logical. (Don’t ask me how that’s working.)
One tool that could prove quite handy for jotting and filing away story ideas is the Notebook View in Word for Mac (sorry, PC users). You can add, label, and color-code tabs just like a real notebook, and each tab attaches to a “page” that simply gets longer and longer as you fill it up. A big advantage for keeping an idea file on your computer is, of course, that you now have an easily searchable record by using keywords.
|what the Word for Mac Notebook layout looks like|
I have also used Word’s Notebook View on a project-by-project basis for character sketches, random details about my work-in-progress, etc. I can copy and paste photos and research info straight from the Internet as well as direct links to Web sites.
Addendum: As I was composing this post, I happened upon news about the latest release of Scrivener, software for the Mac specifically designed for writers (I understand a Windows version is in the works). I’d put off trying Scrivener in the past, but with so many respected authors raving about the new version, I was convinced to give it a try. It has some exciting features that, once I figure them all out, will easily replace most of my “homemade” novel planning and research management systems.
Let’s talk! What are some of your favorite sources for story ideas? What methods have you experimented with for tracking and saving your ideas? What works for you? What doesn’t?
Jason Rekulak’s The Writer’s Block, a surefire way to jumpstart ideas, beat writer’s block, and get your story moving forward!