Trying to Wrangle My Ideas

Earlier in this blog, I spoke about where I get my ideas. As important as getting ideas is, you also need to be able to keep track of them. You wouldn’t believe (unless you’re a writer as well) how often I’ve lost an idea because it was right as I was falling asleep or my pen ran out of ink when I most needed it. It’s frustrating to remember how much I liked an idea only to not have a cohesive memory of what the idea was.

Herding My Ideas

I have methods. Anyone who knows you will tell you that I have methods, and they only serve to highlight my personal brand of insanity. Either I’m crazily disorganized or everything is in a very particular place and woe be to those who disturb my system. To try to capture all of my roaming ideas, I have three methods.

  1.  Index Cards and a Shoebox – where I write ideas (quotes, scenes, characters) in their rawest form and where I keep them
  2. Notebook – This is another place where I write ideas, but they are more fleshed out with accompanying notes
  3. Word Documents – I have two documents I use. One is an “Active Idea Journal” where all my free ideas with notes are kept. The other document is where I put ideas that I’ve used along with attachments to the pieces I write.

My many steps when pre-writing and writing are what help me to form complete ideas before I start writing, so I don’t end up trashing a story or novel half-way through. I think it’s also what helps me just sit down and write wherever I am. Of course, I have my bouts with writer’s block and having difficulty with words, but I can always write something.

Notes in a Shoebox

Yes, a shoebox. It’s the box my converses came in, to be specific. I keep it in my desk or next to my bed (which is next to my desk, so it’s not all that far) unless I’m sorting through them. I usually have index cards with me when I’m out of the house, on my desk, and next to my bed. If I don’t, then I use scrap paper.

This is where I have the most raw material. I might keep photos I like here or I might have a quote or a phrase that sparked something in me. The ideas here are usually rather fragmented, more like writing prompts than well-formed plots.

A Writer’s Notebook

I’ve always had a notebook with me. I’ve tried fancy notebooks, diaries and journals, and binders, but I always go back to my composition books. My earliest writing was in my school notebooks (all required to be college-ruled once I hit the fifth grade) and I probably got used to it. They can also get very inexpensive if I buy them when term is starting.

These notebooks are very… messy. I use them to write, so I usually have my idea journal and a journal for whatever novel I’m writing. I also write short stories and unidentified clips in my idea journal. The stories are often neat and tidy, double spaced in black ink, and large, elaborate, Catholic-school handwriting with edits in red ink. However, the rest of the book had sketches and doodles, ideas and notes, often written on top of each other and on the side with arrows drawn in the hopes of clarifying what I was thinking.

…it doesn’t always work.

The Master List

The last place ideas go before I write them or outline them is my “Active Ideas”  Word document on my computer. I place the idea under the format I think it’ll most likely fit (picture book, short story, novella, novel or series) with all the accompanying notes. Once I use the idea, it’s moved over to the “Completed Ideas” document with all the necessary notes (story title, any publication, short summary, world it occurs in, etc.). I print these documents out every few weeks so I have something concrete to read.

Why Bother?

This is really useful. Having these resources means that I always have something waiting. Whenever I finish something, there’s a variety of ideas I can choose from to start my next piece. If there’s a contest that I’d like to enter (or a school assignment), then I have pages of ideas that I can use to inspire something new.

These methods won’t work for everyone. For some people they will probably kill any sort of creativity that they might have had when the idea comes. Others may need ideas to ferment until they become something tasty and succulent, ready for roasting. For me, ideas are constantly battling in my head, and writing them down allows me to let them go and focus on whatever I’m writing.

Do you have specific ways of keeping ideas or do you pluck ideas from the deepest parts of your mind when you need something new? What do you think of my methods? Am I as crazy as my family thinks?

– Brigid


10 comments on “Trying to Wrangle My Ideas

  1. MissTiffany says:

    Thanks for the link back to my blog! I really like the “Active Ideas” Word Document idea. I might have to use that idea to sort out some of the folders on my laptop!

    • b.h.quinn says:

      And thanks for stopping by my blog. I hope the method works for you. I have so many half-formed ideas that it can be hard for me to keep track of them when I want to start something new. Thanks again.

      • MissTiffany says:

        I know what you mean. And just when I promise myself I’m going to stick to one idea, another one pops into my head and I just have to write it down because it might be important someday. lol And not a problem, it was my pleasure! 🙂

  2. LillianC says:

    Hi there. Thanks for visiting, and I appreciate the pingback. I really enjoy composition books. It’s like they give you permission to be messy and scribble notes in the margins and do whatever you need to do.

    • b.h.quinn says:

      I love composition books, too. I don’t feel quite as bad scratching out my frustrations with a piece that’s going poorly on my $1.00 composition book instead of the $10.00 one I got for Christmas.

      Thanks for stopping by.

  3. Darling.

    Yes, you are as crazy as you wonder. It is most definitely woe-be-to-the-one-who-messes-up-the-system. It’s like your brother’s study, or my kitchen: I know exactly where everything is, but no one else can possibly comprehend the logic you’re using. ❤

  4. This is a terrific post. You sound like you’re more organized than I am.

    I have pieces of stories, notes, pieces of novels, and ideas strewn through a bunch of wire-bound or journal type notebooks. Within the two years, I’ve bought several loose-leaf binders and attempted to collect all related material within one place.

    However, I had never considered a shoe box and only have a few character descriptions on 3 X 5 cards. In addition to “My Writing Collection” (see, I have thought about buying expandable files and/or more loose-leaf binders.

    • b.h.quinn says:

      This is just for my ideas and outlines that I’m working on. Once I start writing then I have a whole other system. It’s the only way to keep my intricate storylines and backstories organized.

      It’s all about what works for you. I have a friend who kept all of her stuff in an old school backpack, and it worked for her. I like your system, too. All the stuff I’m working on tends to stay in my purse (I have a large one), and the other stuff is kept in milk crates and my desk. I should be reorganizing and cleaning soon.

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