Capturing Ideas: Notion Potion #9 by Jordan Castillo Price

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.)

Relentless Capture
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.

High Tech
Snapshot – An ultra quick way to save a visual idea is to take a snapshot of a scene or object with your phone. (It’s also good for remembering where you parked.)

App ItEvernote 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.

Low Tech
Hipster PDA– Productivity expert Merlin Mann made a tongue-in-cheek productivity “system” he calls the Hipster PDA, which consists of index cards held together with a binder clip.

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.

And then go put a pen in your car.

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

Author

Author and artist Jordan Castillo Price is the owner of JCP Books LLC. She writes paranormal, horror and thriller novels from her isolated and occasionally creepy home in rural Wisconsin.

10 comments

  • I’ve made sure now that I have a pen and pad of paper in every single bag I own, but I hadn’t really considered all the potential for storing ideas my smartphone probably has. I should check that out.

    Also, great tip on the parking! I definitely need to do that next time I park in a monster car park (or multi-level one, then get back and find myself unable to remember the floor.)

    Reply
    • Don’t you have a new smartphone just waiting to be tinkered with, too? Evernote and todoist will both work on there. (My phone stinks. My iPod is the closest thing I have to a smartphone.)

      Reply
  • Some great tactics for stopping all those great ideas escaping. I have the meaningless notes on bits of paper and Word docs with 300 words of a story that means nothing to me now. I used to have a little notebook with useful information jotted down in it like the dimensions of an average house brick (I can’t remember why I needed to know that) – this proved embarrassing several months later when I was flipping through the notebook in company and they wouldn’t believe that it was just my atrocious handwriting that made ‘brick’ look like ‘prick’.

    I get most of my ideas just as I’m falling asleep and am too busy thinking about them to write them down before I fall asleep…

    Reply
    • Eee! Good to see you, Mara! I know what you mean about those 300 word stubs. But sometimes they’re kind of intriguing in their meaninglessness. I think I had one that just said “Hell Taxi” which I always thought was pretty interesting.

      I read a tip for those falling asleep ideas that may or may not help you. It said to turn over something on your nightstand and think, “I will remember idea X.” And in the morning when you see your alarm clock is sideways, you may recall that idea.

      Which doesn’t work if your nightstand looks like mine. But in theory it could work for someone neater 😉

      Reply
  • I have random notes to myself all around my house. Some of them are so old that I have no idea what they relate to. They say things like, “Try a different house” or “Ocean names” or “Change POV”. One day I’m going to put them all together and write the weirdest novel in history.

    Reply
    • I used to have notes like that all over my desk. (I kind of figured I still did, until I looked around just now and found there are only two. And one is an old to-do list I can toss.)

      I started enforcing the input of these notes into Evernote. I have a list of story ideas where I could put something like “Ocean names.” Which is really evocative, by the way! I think the reason my habits finally got onboard with the system is that I can tag and search the ideas later, so they’re more re-discoverable.

      Reply
  • I get lots of ideas in the bath (I’m not really a shower person) – I think it’s to do with switching off & relaxing & just letting my brain mull things over. I don’t make a note there & then but I do spend a while thinking it through, then jot it all down while I’m still wrapped in my towel!

    I’ve found recently that I’ve been using the ‘memo’ function / app that came installed on my phone – very useful for when I get ideas at work or last thing at night (since the phone is also my alarm, it sits right next to me at night). I’m getting a new smartphone soon though, so I’ll be checking out Evernote now I know it exists!

    Reply

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