Sunday, February 5, 2017

Keeping Track of Your Ideas

Ideas are the fuel that keep writers going. These might be for future articles, short stories, plays, non-fiction books, and, yes, even blogs. They can be little bits of information, observations, profiles, or full-blown concepts. Unfortunately, the human brain can’t possibly remember them all. In fact, You can’t remember most of your ideas since they seem to disappear into thin air as fast as they appear. In order to keep ideas ready for when you need them, you’ll have to find a way to record and track them.

Keeping track of your ideas could be as simple as creating a folder in your computer in which you save any little tidbit of information that comes along. You probably can see where this is going. Soon you’ll have a folder full of tidbits but not way to tell one from another. So you create more specific folders and file specific information related to one idea category or another in them. Now you have a bunch of folders with tidbits but still no way to know what’s in each.

A rather simple solution to the folder chaos that is to keep an Idea Book–well, actually, a series of Idea Books. This notebook will become your most valuable possession—it will be what keeps you writing.

To start an idea book you’ll have to go low-tech—a standard 6x9½-inch, spiral-bound notebook will do nicely. You can either opt for a thicker one or several thinner ones. If you can find one with built-in tab dividers, all the better. If not, pick up a packet of divider tabs that you can stick some of the pages to create your own sections.

This large idea book will become your main depository for your ideas, but you may also want to keep a small, 3x5-inch, spiral-bound notebook that you carry with you. Then you can periodically skim over the ideas in it and transfer them to your larger Idea Book.

So exactly what should put into your Idea Book? First and foremost are lists of ideas on  particular topics. This is where the dividers come in handy. Perhaps you write a regular blog. You can’t come up with topics off the top of your head without some research. Your Idea Book will allow you to keep an ongoing list of ideas for future blogs. As soon as you finish writing your latest blog, you should take a look at the list and decide which topic you’re going to tackle next. This is also a good place to keep a log of all the blogs you’ve written so far in the order you’ve written them, so that you don’t repeat yourself.

Your Idea Book is also a good place to focus your ideas. Sometimes an idea is way too broad, so you may have to focus it down to its essence. It’s in this process that you can play around with variations on the topic—different slants, possible fiction adaptations, even Web page ideas. Most writers never write about a topic just once, and neither should you.

Another part of any good Idea Book is the resource section. Here, you should jot down information about library books you’ve borrowed in case you need to borrow them again and the addresses of Web sites that contain pertinent information about subjects I write about.

Lastly, you can use your Idea Book to brainstorm possible markets for your work.  This might be just a list of places where you can post your blog. If you write for magazines and such, you may also want to produce diagrams that help you figure out who will be reading your pieces and which markets cater to them.

The techies out there may argue why not use a tablet or phone to do the same thing.
While you can handle some of your items in your idea book—lists of ideas, Web sites, library books, and such—brainstorming, focusing, and figuring out who will read your work is best done on paper. Perhaps you can figure a way to combine the two.

For the digital side of things, you’ll most likely have to use an app, otherwise you’ll be using several programs to do all that an Idea Book entails. One that really works well is Evernote. This little program allows you to create messages to yourself, as well as to-do lists, but it also goes beyond what you can do with just a standard paper Idea Book.

With Evernote or some app like it, you can also clip parts or entire articles from the Internet and save them to it. Then you can go back later and read them. It also allows you to create categories in which to save information. With the free version, you can only save to two digital devices—a desktop and laptop, laptop and phone, laptop and tablet. But you can go for the deluxe paid version which allows much more flexibility.

You can certainly use your smartphone to record ideas on the go, as well as saving Web sites for review later.

Choose whatever works for your situation and digital expertise level. Whatever you do, get your ideas organized. And you’ll keep writing forever.


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