Saturday, July 2, 2011

Ideas Worth Keeping

I've read a lot about writing - a lot - and one thing that comes up every time is what to do with ideas when you get them. I have seen two different suggestions, and I don't agree with either one as being the best reaction to my brain churning out ideas that may or may not be of any use.

I couldn't tell you the specific books that take each side of the argument, but the two suggestions are this:
  • Write down your idea the moment you get it in a little notebook so you don't forget it
  • Do the exact opposite, because if you forget it it wasn't a good enough idea in the first place
The problem with the first is the very reason the second is a good suggestion: you could write down any old idea and assume it's going to be a good one. You won't know the difference when it comes to looking back over your notebook between the good ideas and the bad ideas. Of course, the problem with the second suggestion is that you may actually forget a good idea! Not everyone has a perfect memory. I generally consider myself to have a good memory, but I don't remember everything that happens all the time. Life has a habit of making thoughts become a blur.

My suggestion, while maybe not the best one, incorporates both: keep a notebook, but don't write everything down immediately. I have a small hardback notebook that I bought it in work; it fits in my pocket in work, which is perfect when I'm doing menial jobs like packing books away, if I get an idea or see or hear something that may be of use, and fits in any bag I might have with me wherever I go. But I don't just write down anything. I usually wait a day, unless it's something to add to an existing idea, or specific words I want to use, or details for somewhere to submit. If, the next morning, I can remember the idea I had the day before, I will write it down in my notebook.

This is useful for ensuring the bad ideas don't stick around - if you forget them overnight, they weren't that great - and for keeping the good ones - that really shouldn't be forgotten so quickly. Any and all opinions on this method of idea-keeping are appreciated.

Which of the two suggestions do you follow, or are you a half-way kind of person like me?


jesse said...

If I am working on a project I don't need to write the ideas down right away. Something big enough can live in my brain for quite a while and I have had story ideas that show up a few years later saying 'hello, I'm ready now.'

But little ideas are different. Particularly with philosophy I find that after a while something just clicks and things start to make sense, but if I don't write down what clicked I won't remember. I will be comfortable with the topic but without knowing why. That little connection is where I might differ from others so it is the most important part of my understand, but I forget it within moments of understanding, sometimes it's just a pretty light that appears and vanishes.

I get that with writing as well. It is usually when I am focusing on something else. Afterward I remember having a thought that fascinated and try to remember, but I can't.

I try to write things down, but not so I can check them later. Mostly I write things down because in writing it I expand upon the idea, and once it gets big enough I don't forget it.

Vikk Simmons said...

Well, I've tried just about everything. Ideas for my book projects are kept in project notebooks. Random ideas tend to appear on napkins, sticky notes, and even magazine pages.

For years now I've kept chronological notebooks. They come in handy and I still use that process to contain the flying ideas. Those that have weight will eventually gravitate toward the open books of topics waiting.

If an idea really captures me, I open up a file and write away riding the wave until it lets me down again.

Nice post.