Idea Logging Strategies

Idea-Log-GraphicLast week, I wrote about the transformative power of keeping an idea log. Well, this week, I think it’s worth talking about point #4 on my “How to Keep an Idea Log” list: namely, KEEP IT CONVENIENT.

I know, it sounds obvious, but do you know how many writers I know who have ten untouched “writing journals” lying around their house? Or maybe, like me, you collect apps on your phone. (Don’t even ask me about iPad-only apps!) Collecting notebooks, journals, and even nifty writing apps for tables and smart phones is a fine vice for writers and creatives, but not if you drown in having too many choices.

[Tweet “It’s better to have ONE notebook and use it than to have a HUNDRED, and use none.”]

Okay, you say, then what works?

The answer is… ***Drumroll, please***

It depends.

It depends on you, what you like, what you don’t like, where you go, what you do, and what sort of environment your idea log needs to survive. In just a sec, I’ll give you some questions to help you identify what type of notebook–virtual or otherwise–you might actually use. 

But first, let me tell you what doesn’t work. You know all those lovely journals, sitting on bookshelves and collecting dust, instead of getting filled with ideas? Those don’t work for you. So feel free to keep them around for their aesthetic appeal, but whatever you do, don’t pick one up and try to make it into your New-Improved-Really-Going-to-Do-It-This-Time idea log. Just don’t. Okay? Okay.

phone

Choose the Ideal Idea Log

Here are a few questions to help you navigate the table of tools below:

  1. HOW do you do your best thinking? For example…
    • While walking, hiking, or pacing?
    • While writing longhand?
    • At the computer?
    • While talking aloud, to yourself or with a friend?
  2. WHERE do you need to record ideas? For example…
    • In the car?
    • While running errands?
    • At the gym?
  3. WHAT METHOD of writing gives you the best flow? For example…
    • Writing with pen and paper?
    • Typing at your computer?
    • Dictating?
    • Or does it matter if you’re just recording inspirations?
  4. HOW do you like to SORT or ACCESS your ideas later? For example…
    • By searching electronically?
    • Chronologically?
    • Visually scanning entries, which you’ve sorted by topic?
Below, I’ve listed some examples of high-quality notebooks, notebook systems, computer programs, iPhone apps, and iPad apps with which I’ve had experience. I’ve ONLY included products that I’ve found are reliable and relatively flexible. For example, although I love the program Index Cards for the iPhone, I don’t think it translates very well between mobile devices and my desktop machine, so I haven’t included it below.
TOOL

VISUAL

AUDITORY

KINESTHETIC (USE WHILE MOVING?)

HIGH-TECH

PORTABLE

FLEXIBLE STRUCTURE/ SEARCHABLE

Notebooks
Arc customizable notebook system

X

X

X

X

Moleskine-style notebooks 

X

X

X

Computer Programs
Scrivener

X

X

X

Word processing programs

X

X

X

Dragon dictation (with other program)

X

X

X

Dragon dictation (with Bluetooth microphone)

X

X

X

X

Smart Phone and iPad Apps
Simplenote

X

X

X

Evernote

X

X

X

X

Recording apps (or digital recorder)

X

X

X

X

Paper 53 storyboarding app  X  X

X

 X

Do you have any “idea capture systems” to add to the list? Please share in the comments!

Friday Fun Poll: Where Do You Do Your Best Thinking?

SeanMacEntee

Photo Credit

Earlier this week, I wrote about idea logging and how it can boost your creative practice. I even gave some tips for how to idea log effectively–but the truth is, the best technique for one person won’t work at all for another. That’s because the “right” tool for you will depend on how you think and work best.

Some of us think best by writing longhand, for example, while others prefer to type our prose straight into the computer. (Oh, how I envy you!) Others take a nice creativity nap to come up with ideas, while others are best inspired by long hikes through the wilderness.

Where do you all find creative inspiration? Check out the poll below to cast your vote and see where your fellow writers land!

[poll id=”8″]

If I didn’t include your favorite creativity booster in the answers, please share in the comments–I love to hear from you!

Good News!

I’m interrupting our regularly scheduled programming (I usually reserve Thursdays for introducing new symbols and creativity exercises in the symbols for writers series) for a spot of good news:

I just had my first nonfiction book published: Voyagers in Space.

Voyagers in Space_Reading A-Z Level S Leveled Book

Voyagers in Space is a leveled reader produced by Reading A-Z, a publisher that produces a broad range of leveled reading material for classroom use. As such, it’s not a book you’ll find in the library or bookstore–it’s only available for Reading A-Z subscribers.

I loved this project, and I’m delighted with how the final version came out. Thanks for celebrating with me!

:~) Cheryl

 

How to Boost Creativity with an Idea Log

My writing practice has taken a huge leap forward this past year. I’ve had more ideas, discovered more creative connections, and encountered fewer creative blocks. I’ve completed a major writing project and made significant progress on another, plus made notes for a dozen potential tie-ins. All these improvement have occurred despite the ups and downs of sickness, travel, and other minor crises. And let’s not forget the normal life busy-ness that most creative types face, such as chauffeuring kids, paying bills, and trying to keep a house that’s reasonably safe, happy, and healthy.

Idea-Log-Graphic

This improved writing practice is due to one change. Astonishingly, that change doesn’t involve more time writing, less stress, OR chocolate. (Weird, right?)

I started keeping an idea log.

What’s an Idea Log?

An idea log isn’t exactly a journal, where you might figure out thoughts, explore feelings, or record daily events. It isn’t like morning pages, either, where you freewrite whatever your inner self has to say before starting the day.

Instead, an idea log is a tool for cataloging ideas. It’s a catch-all for thoughts you might want to pursue, intriguing snatches of conversation, and compelling questions. If you’re a designer, your idea log might include sketches or color swatches. For writers, the idea log provides a place to collect quotes, cool facts, news snippets, and concepts for blog posts, stories, and poetry.

If this sounds like the standard writing/creativity notebook, think again. The power of an idea log lies in its consistency. Every day–usually around 10:30 pm, because I tend to procrastinate–I drag out my notebook and dutifully jot down my ideas. Usually, that means turning my brain to whatever I’ve been working on that day, and usually, I start the process convinced that I have nothing to say. I’m tired, my inner lazybones whines. I’m not inspired. I don’t have…

And then: Oh, wait–what if I were to…. and before I know it, I usually have a bullet list of ideas that didn’t exist when I began. My “official” goal is to write down 5 ideas–and they can be about anything, ideas for nonfiction articles, blog posts, character quirks; or, if I’m feeling ambitious, they might be 5 ideas for how to get character A to plot point B, or maybe 5 ideas about how magic works in my current work-in-progress, or ideas related to any of a hundred other story questions. 

Something about doing this every day for the past six months or so has yielded a steady stream of ideas and inspirations. Some ideas fade when I review them the next morning, but others have helped me to puzzle out plot problems, or given me the starting gems for winning characters.

How to Keep an Idea Log

The best thing about keeping an idea log? It takes almost no time, so even on the busiest of days, it will fit into your schedule. Why not give idea logging a try for a week and see if it boosts YOUR creativity. Here are a few tips for creating a successful idea logging practice.

  1. Commit to regular idea generation. This may be the single most important aspect of idea logging. When you make your brain scrounge for new ideas on a daily basis–even if it’s only for a few minutes each time–you set an expectation for yourself. You WILL come up with 5 or 10 (or whatever number you choose) ideas. Your subconscious will try to meet that expectation.
  2. Commit to a number. By planning a certain number of ideas to come up with ahead of time, you push yourself to push past the obvious, easy ideas. Sometimes you need to write out a few stupid ideas in order to get to a GREAT one.
  3. Permit imperfection. Attitude is everything here: remember that the idea log is for your eyes only, and it can be as messy, goofy, silly, and crazy as you like. This log is a place to help you think, NOT a place to seek perfection. Embrace imperfection and watch how the most unlikely, most surprising ideas end up taking you in new directions!
  4. Keep it convenient. Find a “capture method” that suits your lifestyle. I happen to think more easily with pen and paper; others would rather type up ideas on the computer or record voice memos on the go. Many of the new smart phones come equipped with pretty darned good voice recognition software, which makes capturing ideas a snap even when you’re on the go.
  5. Keep it simple. Just as the capture method should seamlessly fit into your day-to-day, your logging process needs to stay simple. I’ve tried keeping several different logs–one for craft ideas, another for blog posts, another for interesting plot and character ideas. Although I’ve heard this works for some people, I found that I never had the right notebook in the right place at the right time. The result? Instead of creating 4 neatly organized lists of ideas, I created nothing.If you want to add some structure to your idea log, start off with something simple. You might color code ideas with highlighter or Post-It flags; or record ideas for different projects in different sections of a single notebook. If you find that the organization interferes with the free flow of ideas, though, consider taking a step back and making one list. You can always sort out the best ideas later!
  6. Prepare for success. This is the second Most Important Tip on the list. (It’s my list, so I get two if I want!) What can you do to make your idea logging have a greater chance of success? Here are a few ideas to get you started:
    • Set an alarm so you don’t forget.
    • Tie your idea-logging time to another daily event, to help you establish the idea-logging habit. (The link leads to an overview of B.J. Fogg’s habit-forming research at Stanford University. His 5-day Tiny Habits program is THE BEST tool for creating new habits that I’ve ever found. And it’s free.)
    •  I find it helpful to keep a sticky note listing current plot questions and topics I want to brainstorm in my idea log notebook. If I don’t have ideas when I start, looking at the list will get my creative wheels turning.
    • Consider listing some thought-provoking questions and strategies inside your idea log. Gayle Curtis lists a number of creative jump-starters in her handout, What Is an Idea Log?
  7. Have fun! The idea log is a place to explore, to play with ideas. A sense of play can decrease pressure and spark creativity…not to mention that you’ll have better luck maintaining your idea log if you see it as something fun, rather than an dreaded chore.  

There’s no one-size-fits-all process for keeping an idea log, any more than there’s a one-size-fits-all process for any creative endeavor. You may need to test places, times, and methods in order to hit a combination that lets you establish a regular practice of idea logging.

 Are you going to try an idea-logging practice? Or do you already keep an idea log? Please share in the comments!