Hey, SE Readers. Joan with you today. One of my first posts at Story Empire was titled “The Stories Around Us.”
Ideas come to me in all kinds of places and all sorts of situations—on an Alaskan cruise ship, observations in restaurants, things I see while driving, listening to a song, or watching a movie. Story ideas are certainly all around us.
I once told someone that I had more ideas than I have time for writing. That’s probably true for a lot of writers. What’s an author to do when he or she gets a great idea for a future project?
Not having time to write doesn’t mean you need to abandon your ideas. Many writers have a backlist of potential stories. Some keep them in file folders on the computer. Others jot them down in a notebook. I’ve even heard of a few that use index cards.
Don’t count on being able to remember days, weeks, even a few hours later. I probably shouldn’t admit this, but there are times when I’ve been in the middle of writing a sentence, stop to correct the previous one, and forget what I planned to stay.
Before I began writing my Legends of Madeira series, I purchased an inexpensive journal. I used it to jot down ideas, character names, brainstorm possible scenes, and more. It’s small enough to carry in my purse, and I often use my lunchtime for brainstorming sessions.
A recent study showed distinctively different brainwave patterns between typing and writing by hand. When writing, our brain receives feedback from our motor actions, together with the sensation of touching a pen and paper. Writing by hand boosts the learning process.
In addition, being away from your computer or smartphone is less distracting. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had an idea, start to type it, then open a web browser to research a particular aspect. Two hours later, I’ve gone down more rabbit holes than there are in Watership Down because I find research to be addicting.
Another advantage to using a notebook is being able to look back at your notes after you’ve finished a story. You’ll find things that didn’t work, others that made the story stronger, and some you ended up not using. Who knows when and where those unused items might find their way into another story?
For those ideas that come in the middle of the night, and they often do, keep a pen and paper next to your bed. Once again, don’t count on being able to remember them the next morning.
What about those times when you are driving, and inspiration strikes? Most of us have smartphones with the ability to dictate into a notes app. Take advantage of that. (Please don’t text or type while you drive. You want to live long enough to write the story.)
Before smartphones, I kept a small tape recorder in the car. Today, digital recorders are relatively inexpensive and are small enough to fit into a purse or pocket. If you don’t want to use your phone, consider purchasing one of these. You can then plug them into a USB port on your computer and play the dictation.
I’ve also used my phone to record my thoughts to get the “feeling” of a scene. While writing Cold Dark Night, I wanted to get a feel of what my main character, Tami, would experience while sitting on her front porch after moving to Madeira. I sat on my porch and observed the things around me. Granted what I see in East Texas would be much different than in Northern New Mexico, but it gave me a general sense of space.
Lastly, keep a list of all your ideas, including potential character names. Eventually, all my notes go into files on my computer. That way I have them in one central location for easy references.
Have you used any of these methods? What other ways do you keep track of potential stories?