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Capturing Ideas: How Do You Do It?

by Jennifer on May 18, 2010

By Jennifer Blanchard

How many times have you had an idea for something—a story, a poem, a random scene, a character—at an inconvenient time (while you’re driving, when you aren’t near paper and a pen)? Countless probably.

That very thing happened to me this morning while I was driving to work. I was just driving along listening to 311 and thinking about what I have to write for this week (two blog posts, two columns for SavvyAuthors.com and work on the copy and content for my health site).

Then suddenly, I’m stopped at a red light and an idea for a freelance article hits me. Before I have a chance to grab my Blackberry to write the idea down, thou, the light turns green and I have to drive again.

For the next ten minutes, ideas keep coming to me—a blog post, another freelance article, a note to my friend—and I was unable to write anything down.

Grabbed my Blackberry at the next light. Pull up the voice note recorder program…out of space. Don’t have my work cell phone with me, so I can’t call my personal phone and leave a voice message with the ideas.

Need my writing notebook. Need it now.

At the next light, I grab my notebook, tuck the pen in my hand…and then the light turns green. Have to start driving again.

Of course, all of the lights are green for the next 10 minutes. Meanwhile the ideas are stacking up in my head and I’m starting to sweat, worried I’ll forget everything by the time I stop again.

Finally, I stopped long enough to write everything down. Phew…ideas rescued.

How many times has this happened to you? What tool(s) do you use for capturing your ideas?

About the Author: Jennifer Blanchard is founder of Procrastinating Writers. Be sure to follow her on Twitter.

Ed. Note: The links marked “a story” and “a character” are affiliate links to Larry Brooks’ amazing e-books on story structure and creating believable characters. If you’re a fiction writer—these books needs to be in your arsenal of tools.


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{ 9 comments… read them below or add one }

1 gabryyl May 18, 2010 at 3:26 pm

I use Dragon dictation for iPhone. Integrates with desktop software and it types as I speak. Amazingly accurate, too.

2 jblan May 18, 2010 at 9:22 pm

@gabryyl Thanks for sharing your thoughts. That app sounds amazing. I wish Verizon carried iPhone (that’s my carrier)!!

3 sefcug May 19, 2010 at 10:30 am

I carry a notepad and pen in my pocket all the time.

This is for writing, work, personal notes, just about anything that comes to mind. I have been doing this for a couple of years now. I am now a senior, and find I forget things much more quickly.

Most times, I transcribe to a text log, which I keep on my computers synced with my dropbox, this makes it easier than trying to sort though multiple notebooks, as I sometimes forget where I put them, and once I find them again, I forgot what I was looking for.

4 jennifer blanchard May 19, 2010 at 10:36 am

@sefcug Yes, I too find that carrying a notebook and pen on me at all times is the most optimal way for me to capture ideas. Thanks for sharing your thoughts.

5 Emily Casey May 19, 2010 at 5:49 pm

I always get new ideas as I’m drifting off to sleep. Without fail. If I need something specific, sometimes I can think my way through to an idea, but otherwise it comes on the brink of sleep. So annoying.

6 Monica Rodriguez May 21, 2010 at 2:25 pm

I’ve had the same thing happen, and if I can I use the voice recorder on my phone. If I can’t get to that, I’m at the mercy of time, driving, or whatever is keeping me from writing.

What I do, tho, if I can’t write down my idea(s) at the moment they strike, is to replay them. Like a movie, I rewind and sort of recite the dialogue that came to me or replay the scenario, etc. I do that over and over, a lot at first and then occasionally until I can get to pen & paper (or keyboard). That process usually works to keep the ideas in my head in generally the same shape they were when they first struck. I’ve saved a great deal of ideas that struck at inconvenient times that way.

7 jennifer blanchard May 21, 2010 at 3:14 pm

@Monica Rodriguez I recently learned about this amazing tool called “Google Voice” where you get your own number, you call it and leave a voice message, and then the system transcribes it for you and e-mails it to you!! Unfortunately, you have to get an “invite” for this program. Lucky for me, one of my Twitter followers totally rocks and generously donated one to me. Now I know I’ll always have a place for my “thoughts” to go if I’m driving or if my pen and notebook are out of reach.

With your process (repeating it over and over), do you find you remember it almost exactly or that it tends to change as you repeat it? I’m curious!

8 Andrew Toynbee June 17, 2010 at 5:15 am

The door pockets in my car are always stuffed full of credit card receipts (I know – I’m a disorganised slob!) that can serve as notepaper in emergencies. If an idea hits me I can often write down a single significant word (or two if the lights aren’t green) that will later help me recall the whole idea.
If there’s no time for that (or you haven’t got a pen) then try to remember one word in your head until you get time to jot the idea down properly.
My significant other often gets obscure instructions from me when I’m driving…”Quick! Write down ‘Angels lose power if human’!”
“Why?” she asks.
“Pleeez!” I beg.
Thus is the concept preserved.
Except now she thinks I’m nuts…

9 jennifer blanchard June 17, 2010 at 9:42 am

@Andrew Toynbee Thanks for sharing your idea-capturing tips! I think it’s absolutely hilarious that you make your sig other write down your ideas for you. But what a great option for when your hands are tied and you need to write something down. 🙂

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