Welcome to another inspiration-filled episode of Notion Potion, your monthly shot of creative juiciness. Last month we talked about finding the silver lining in your dark creativity cloud by using problems to your advantage in Probing the Problem. This month, let’s see if we can prevent good ideas from slipping through our fingers.
Everything starts somewhere. Before you set aside time for a new project, before you start sending out your tendrils of research or shopping for supplies, you were bitten by an idea. Ideas are funny things, because they’re phenomenally valuable and at the same time nearly worthless. Most authors dread hearing, “You’re a writer? I have the best idea for a novel.” Because that’s usually followed by some odd story we’re expected to hear for two minutes…then spend six months writing down in exchange for a “split of the profit.”
People generate ideas constantly. Every time you notice something that could be done differently, every time you combine two separate things into something new, every time you spin your imagination into a “what if?” you’re having an idea. The challenge lies in remembering those ideas when you’re in a position to begin exploring them!
(See the Shopping for Ideas post for more thoughts on idea generation.)
The cornerstone of the popular Buy LinkGetting Things Done system is called “ubiquitous capture.” The idea is to keep your brain free of all the stuff you normally attempt to remember, thereby freeing your mind to do more creative work. I prefer the phrase “relentless capture,” though. Take no prisoners! Capture those thoughts! Every last one!
And while it does create a certain mental ease to record all your ideas, what’s even better is that once you’re in the habit of recording absolutely everything, you’ll have fewer of those really, really good ideas slipping through your fingers. Short term memory has limits. Most people can recall 5-9 things for approximately 30 seconds. All other memories will either encode into long-term memory, or be forgotten.
Don’t let those really good ideas go the way of the last phone number you needed to look up! Here are five methods for relentlessly capturing your ideas.
Write it Down
Pen and paper is about as old-school as you can get, but it still works when more high-tech methods run out of batteries, or simply seem too cumbersome to boot up and navigate.
Idea Book – I keep an idea book—I literally wrote “Idea Book” on the first page of a small knockaround notebook. I use this for brainstorming all kinds of things, like plot ideas, marketing ideas, and blog post ideas. The idea for this post originally came from my idea book.
Index Card – Planting a few blank index cards in places where you might need them, like your pocket, purse, wallet or glove box, will ensure you’ve got something on which to jot down a quick idea when you need it.
Shower Ideas – Ideas often strike in the shower. I’ve heard theories that it has to do with ionization caused by the running water activating your brain. I have no idea if that’s true, but if shower-mind tends to strike you, it can’t hurt to be prepared. Invest in a waterproof notebook, or something as simple as shower crayons to scrawl a one-word reminder of your idea on the shower wall. (Test in an inconspicuous spot first to be sure they don’t stain!)
Car Pen – This is so simple it’s ridiculous, but I love the fact that I always have a pen in my car and often use it to capture things that might otherwise slip away. I even have a special spot for it in a pocket on the door. If you have a car and there’s no pen in it, go plant one there right now!
Shout it Out
Self Call – Leaving yourself a quick voicemail message is an easy way to send a reminder when you’re not in a position to write it down.
Tell a Friend – I find I remember things better if I tell someone else about them. Something about the process of distilling the idea so someone else can understand makes it more solid in my mind. And if they ask questions or make suggestions, it’s even less likely you’ll forget, because it’s now become a whole conversation.
Voice Message – Many MP3 players and phones will also let you record voice notes and voice-to-text notes. It’s worth experimenting with this to see if this idea capture style works for you. Some people record all kinds of notes and never go through them, so consider whether you’re going to do the followup.
App It – Evernote is a wonderful place to throw ideas that you want to come back to later. It works on desktop and mobile platforms. Many people gather visual ideas on Pinterest. There are also dozens of online to-do lists you can try (currently, I’m loving todoist.com).
Email – Yes, email is almost as old-school as writing things down with paper and pen, but when I had a day job eating my mind, the ability to email myself ideas before I forgot them was awesome. I also found I could often write 200 words over a 15-minute break or 400 words during a lunchtime if I just did my best to remember my current story, think, “Okay, go,” write like hell and email it to myself.
Write It On Your Hand – When I had a mind-eating day job, I did this a lot too. Then I could feel smug about having ideas I cared enough about to write on myself.
We all have different styles and tendencies, and it’s doubtful all of these methods will work for you. But just imagine how many more ideas you’d capture if you started using the two methods that suited you best! The next time you struggle to recall that great idea you had, think back to where you had the idea, and figure out which method of capture might have worked for you at the time.
Author and artist Jordan Castillo Price is the owner of JCP Books and the author of many award-winning gay paranormal thrillers, including PsyCop and Magic Mansion. Her latest serially-written story, Turbulence, is a twisted foray into the Bermuda Triangle. Check it out at JCPbooks.com