Like a lot of writers, I don’t like being asked where I get my ideas. If I say ideas are everywhere and it’s just a matter of capturing them, I sound mildly demented, but it’s the absolute truth. This morning I was flipping through Chris Baty’s highly amusing and useful No Plot? No Problem! and then went to my computer to waste a couple hours checking email and Twitter, playing online games and friending friends of my friends on Facebook. While spending quality time playing online mahjong, I started thinking (okay, daydreaming).
I started to wonder what if a woman left her boyfriend in New York to move to San Francisco to be with some guy she met on Facebook and she then gets bored with that guy and leaves him and goes to another state ( location still in question) and meets still another guy? This could go on indefinitely, and this woman’s inner journey might be pretty interesting, because it seems to me her mental health isn’t as good as it could be.
The moral of this story is my ideas almost always start with “what if?”
This leads to the more pressing concern of catching the ideas so they don’t escape and run screaming down the street while I’m in the shower (or something equally dramatic). I have 3 ways of keeping my ideas, depending on where I am and how much time I have for idea capture.
- Write it down! This is the easiest and most low-tech and can take anywhere from about 30 seconds to several hours. Always keep a notebook or index cards or something nearby to write on. I like Moleskine notebooks in spite of the price. They don’t disintegrate as quickly in your pocket as do the mini notebooks from the dollar store. They also come in a range of sizes.
- Use the voice recorder on a cell phone. I use this a lot while driving. I tend to get a lot of ideas while driving and it’s not always convenient to pull over to scribble on a notepad. Just make sure to speak slowly and clearly enough that you will be able to understand yourself when you get home to transcribe this gem into your notebook or computer.
- Keep an open word processing document whenever you’re working on your WIP. I tend to get a lot of ideas while I’m writing something completely different. You could also keep a notebook handy for these idea interruptions, but for me it’s faster and easier and doesn’t interrupt my WIP quite as much to switch between documents. I write as much as I need to in order to be sure the essence of my idea will be there when I return to it.
I am a little paranoid about losing my ideas. I keep pens and paper in every room of my house, including the bathroom. My computer is always on while I am awake (I only shut down at night). Every purse, laptop case and backpack that I own has its own stash of pens and paper. Slightly weird? Of course. But I can live with the weirdness because I have several dozen ideas ranging from crap to awesome filed on my computer, waiting for the day their turn comes to become a story.