Whether you are a new writer just starting out with your first novel or knee deep in your fifth, chances are you will get hit with random ideas as they shoot around the brainosphere.
So it becomes really important to set up a system for organising and storing these ideas, especially if you are in the middle of a manuscript.
One at a time, please
While it’s really tempting to drop one manuscript when a new idea pops up, you really should try not to.
I speak from (a lot) of experience. I have been a serial “story hopper” for years and I’ve paid a high price for it. When I finally gave myself “the talk” and focused on just one WIP, I actually got it completed in a relatively short amount of time.
You don’t have to wait until your first WIP is a completed, published book before you reach for the next idea. But you need to focus on getting the 1st and 2nd draft down fully before you dip into the ideas pot.
So, what’s a girl to do when the brain just plops out a brand spanking new idea?
Firstly, don’t brush the idea away thinking you have to work on your current manuscript. Ideas are sneaky and they don’t linger. If you don’t get it down, it could be off, harassing another writer.
So take some time (a day, week, even a month…but no longer) and get all of the idea out of your head. Don’t trust that you will remember it, the brain is not that kind. Write it down.
You need to get it out so that it’s not clogging up your current thought processes and infecting your ongoing manuscript.
Write it down in whatever way you need (AT FIRST) just to get it out. This can be creating profiles, noting info about characters, landscapes, plot ideas or even a scene or two that is floating inside your head.
Just remember this is JUST clearing it from your mind not working on the new idea! Don’t start expanding it and actually writing chapters or anything.
Find an organising method that works
Now, writers can get a lot of ideas so you really need to get something in place for organising them as soon as possible.
If you are new to writing, great, this is the BEST time to organise. Because if you’ve been writing for a while and haven’t been organising, then you may have to chug through backlogs of ideas to get them all sorted.
Unfortunately, I was in the latter category before seeing the wisdom of idea organising. Believe me after you find post-its randomly stuck to things, each with a scribble of an idea you can barely understand, you start to desire a more concise method.
Of course, everyone is different so let’s cover a few different methods, as what works for one person might not work for another.
It’s a good idea to figure out the sort of person you are. Some people need a more visual hands-on system, others prefer a simple, linear, digital system. When you know which you are finding the right method will come easily.
Organise with Index Cards
I’ve used index cards a lot. You can get a good size pack of them pretty cheap. They can fit into your bag or pocket and be filled in as and when an idea hits.
I prefer to use them, not when the idea hits, but afterwards when I had more time. I would then use them to put down more detail and flesh out the idea.
You can get them in different colours so I would colour code them. The front would usually have the series title (if I knew it), colour coded to that series, along with the date of the idea and the category it fell into.
Then the idea would be scribbled on the back. I then kept them all in an index card box with dividers that split up the different series’.
This could also be used in the same way but with new ideas. You could fill in the cards with the details of the idea and then file them in an index box by genre.
Another idea is to get a pack of notepad and keep any ideas for the same series in a specific notepad. If you do this though, keep the notepads together with an elastic band.
Or if that isn’t your cup of tea, try using one notepad but use a multicoloured/colour changeable pen with you and for each new story/genre change the colour so that when you scan through you can instantly see which ideas are, for example, Sci-Fi or Romance or Horror etc..
Evernote (or similar)
If digital is your preference, then look at software packages such as Evernote or the like. These can help you capture your ideas and keep everything in a central location.
While notepads may not be your thing, you’ve probably typed up ideas on your phone or on your work laptop. In which case you need to make sure you transfer them all into the single location.
Evernote is great because you can access it anywhere and the free version allows you to create notepads and then sheets within so you can divide your ideas by story, genre etc.
Ideas Template sheet
You can create a template sheet in Word or Excel or similar that you fill in with the details of your idea. I have used these and include things such as date of idea, series, genre, character details and then just dump all the data.
Having these templates also gives you a nice uniformity to your organising system.
These idea sheets are saved in ONE location in my writing folder. .This is broken down by genre and then an extra folder called “Not sure” because sometimes if you just have a single thought, a vague notion of a character you might not know which genre they will end up in.
If however, the idea is (or becomes) one for a current manuscript, then it gets moved into the Ideas folder within that manuscript’s folder. (check out How To Organise your Writing on the Computer)
This way when I’m working on my manuscript, I can nip in and out of my ideas folder as needed.
This has been a suggested idea by another writer. Open up a document like Word and make this your Master Ideas document. Every idea goes on a new page and you can use page breaks to keep them all separate.
You would need to again include info like genre or some other searchable tag that would make finding things easier. Otherwise, you could end up scrolling through many pages to locate an idea or even just try and remember an idea.
This is not my method but I know people like it. As with all methods DO make sure you have a backup system in place. I personally find if a Word document gets big, it likes to freeze and crash usually just before saving.
A Word about Revisiting
In my article How to grow great ideas from the Muses, I discussed the concept of Floating Ideas.
One main point was that you need to periodically revisit your ideas. After all, getting them down is great but if you end up with dozen, you need to keep an eye on them. Who knows, you may be in the middle of a manuscript where an idea would fit perfectly.
But if that idea hit you 3 years ago and you’ve forgotten it and never checked, you would miss that awesome opportunity.
I recommend checking on your ideas every four months. Hence why it’s pretty important to keep them all in a central location to make this task easier.
So, how do you organise your ideas? Any tricks or suggestions?
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