When an Idea Strikes

Ideas are crucial to a writer; they are, in fact, a writer’s stock in trade. Granted, it’s the execution of that idea that sets one writer apart from another, but without that initial idea, there is no journey. So how do you ensure that you don’t lose any of those precious ideas?

Like most of you, my life is busy, usually teetering right on the edge of insanity ― working full-time in the lab, a second full-time career as a writer, a family and household to run and life’s daily activities to carry out. On top of that, or just as likely because of the pace I have to maintain, I don’t do ‘nothing’ well. I listen to audiobooks while I cook, garden, wash dishes or drive to work, I plan or write in every spare moment and I can’t even watch TV without analysing the plotline and characterizations on-screen. There is always something going on in my head.

But this means that whenever inspiration hits, I can’t rely on my brain to remember the details. It’s amazing how the great idea from five minutes ago that was guaranteed to save my story can be gone in a puff of smoke this instant. It’s... uh... because there’s simply too much in my brain and things keep falling out (okay, it really has to do with short-term memory capacity and the amount of inflowing information, but that’s the explanation that only a science geek would love).

I’ve learned the hard way that when the lightning bolt of inspiration hits, I’ve only got a few minutes to find some way to record it. I don’t need every last detail, just enough to jog my memory later when I’ve got time to make complete notes. My most useful tool for this is the notepad and pen I carry at all times (I can be seen making notes in just about any situation). I’ve sent myself voice mail messages to my home answering machine. I’ve used Dragon Dictation on my iPod Touch. I’ve sent myself e-mails or direct messages through Twitter. The worst is when inspiration hits in the shower. I think I should invest in a set of Crayola bathtub crayons for making notes on the tile because I’ve come tearing out the shower on a few occasions, wrapped in a towel and making a beeline for my laptop to get an idea down before it evaporates. Ann, my writing partner, keeps paper and pencil by her bed and has been known to make notes at 3 a.m. Now that she works from home, her current method of recording ideas is an Excel file where she can organize items chronologically and then match them later with their resolution. Her worst place for inspiration to hit is standing in three feet of water when she’s working on her pond. Perhaps she should start keeping chalk handy for note taking on the rock retaining wall.

I know we’re not the only writers suffering from Overflowing Brain Syndrome. So how do you ensure that inspiration doesn’t pass you by? Please share in the comments because we’d all love to hear your strategies.

Photo credit: fostersartofchilling