Friday, December 11, 2009

Keeping an Idea Book

Ideas are the fuel that keep me going as a writer. These might be for future articles, short stories, plays, non-fiction books, and, yes, even my blogs. They can be little bits of information, observations, profiles, or full-blown concepts. Unfortunately, the human brain–my brain–can’t possibly remember them all. In fact, I can’t remember most of them since they seem to disappear into thin air as fast as they appear.

My solution to this problem is to keep an Idea Book–well, actually, a series of Idea Books. As a writer this notebook is my most valuable possession–it’s what keeps me writing.

Starting an Idea Book is easy. I use a standard 6x9½-inch, spiral-bound notebook that’s about
¾-inch thick. I’ve also found the ones with tabbed divider pages handy, especially when I want to divide my ideas into major subject specialties. And while this is my main depository of ideas, I also keep a small, 3x5-inch, spiral-bound notebook that I carry around with me. Periodically, I skim over the ideas in it and transfer them to my larger Idea Book.

So exactly what do I put into my Idea Book? First and foremost are lists of ideas on a particular topic. I write a monthly genealogy column for Genealogy Today. I can’t write these columns off the top of my head without some research, so I keep an ongoing list of ideas for them in my Idea Book. As soon as I finish writing a current month’s column, I take a look at the list and decide which topic I’m going to tackle next. I also keep a list of all the columns I’ve written in the order I’ve written them, so I don’t repeat myself–or in case I need to refer back to one in a current one.

I also focus ideas in my Idea Book. Sometimes an idea is way too broad, so I have to focus it down to its essence. It’s in this process that I play around with variations on the topic–different slants, possible fiction adaptations, even Web page ideas for any of my four Web sites. I never write about a topic just once. My record is 18 articles on a single topic–The Oregon Trail.

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

Lastly, I use my Idea Book to brainstorm possible markets for my work.  This might be just a list of places I can send my articles and such or it may be diagrams that help me figure out who will be reading my pieces and then which markets cater to them.

Now for all you junior geeks out there, I haven’t forgotten about you. If you wish, you can adapt all of the above to an Idea Folder on your computer, using your PDA (personal data assistant) or cell phone to record observations, etc. on the run. This concept is fully adaptable to your situation. Whatever you do, get your ideas organized. And you’ll keep writing forever.

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