I can’t tell you how many story ideas I’ve lost because I didn’t write them down. Thousands, likely. They probably weren’t all good, most of them terrible, I’d wager. Yet there were mental gems I uncovered, gazed at with wonder, then kicked dirt over by accident when something else distracted me. Whether or not they ever come back to me isn’t something I get to decide. Being ready to write down a good idea isn’t hard, so long as one stocks the places they frequently have ideas with something to write with and something to write on. Some ideas for you:

1. Have a pen and paper next to your bed and make yourself write ideas down immediately!

I have a pen and a pad of Post-Its in my bedside table drawer. This is coupled with an overwhelming fear that I won’t remember my “brilliance” in the morning. A flash in the brain, a quick click of the Simpsons lamp, and an immediate moment of writing. I rarely write down dreams, and am rarely able to remember their specific details. I usually jot down the magnificent thoughts which occur to me as I drift into unconsciousness. If you have an idea at this time, and you hear your brain say, “Eh, I’ll remember it in the morning,” kick your brain in the face and wake up. Get it down on paper. If you’re befuddled about its meaning in the morning well, at least you have something to befuddle over.

2. Use Note Pad and consistent folder organization for ideas typed up on a computer.

On the computer, I use Note Pad for quick ideas. It’s faster than loading up and saving with MS Word, and the down-and-dirty feel of immediately typing away appeals to me. Plus, I’m a nut for courier font. I suggest organizing folders for your ideas, too. You can try one file for all ideas, no matter how random, break it up by genre or format, etc. Step one is typing up the idea, but step two is making sure you can find it again.

3. Carrying actual pen and paper with you ensures you never lose an idea (and makes you look like an honest-to-God writer, too!).

I tend to have actual paper handy, too. There’s usually a large notebook in my Wenger Synergy laptop backpack, and there’s always a handful of writing implements and at least some paper to scrawl something down on, even if it’s the inside cover of a day planner.

Finally, I always carry a pen. I didn’t do this for a long time, afraid I would ruin a good pair of pants or jab myself in the leg. However, when one loses enough potentially good ideas, worrying about denim doesn’t seem all that important. I carry a Zebra Zeb-Roller 2000 0.7mm black liquid ink pen, my favorite cartooning ink pen for years, in my pocket at all times. I’m not as consistent with paper; usually I rely on receipts, movie ticket stubs, and business cards – especially business cards. Everyone gives me a business card and I spend more time writing bits on the back than reading the embossed front. If I’m magically out of even a scrap of a scrap to write on in my pocket, the middle school write-on-your-palm trick suffices in a pinch.

Bonus Tip: Date your ideas to give it context further down the timeline.

I always jot down the date I have my story ideas. This comes in handy when I find an idea on the back of a receipt months after I wrote it. It helps me get a little context, consider if other ideas have spawned from it since, and so on. There’s beautiful irony in using a dating system for something so unorganized at its core, yet that’s the writing habit I’ve fallen into.

Prepare yourself for losing ideas. It’s never fun, but it’s okay. Prepare yourself for recording ideas, too. Give yourself the tools you need to make sure you never lose another idea again. And if none of this works for you, record your ideas at Word Perhect, the online write-on-the-back-of-a-receipt website you’ve been waiting for.


[tags]story ideas, pen, writing, saving ideas, Word Perhect[/tags]

The secret formula’s written on a receipt.

One thought on “The secret formula’s written on a receipt.

  • 08.01. 2007 at 1:10 pm

    This is a pretty nerdy note-taking technique I use on my Mac, but some might be interested. It does some minor categorization for me and uses a notepady editor as well (TextMate on OS X). All of this is done at a keypress and has lead to me taking a ridiculous amount of notes since I implemented it.

    I know it’s nerdy, so drop me an email if you have a Mac and need some help getting things rolling.


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