How to organise your ideas

drawing idea pencil and light bulb concept creative and leadersh

Whether you are just starting out or knee deep in your fifth story, chances are you will get bopped by random ideas as they shoot around the brainsphere.

So it becomes really important to set up a system for organising and storing these ideas, especially if you are in the middle of a manuscript.

While it’s really tempting to drop one manuscript for a new idea, you really should try not to (I am well aware that I fall afoul of this A LOT and actually have a series and a trilogy both running at the same time… but I still think that’s bad, I’m just awful at taking some of my own advice)…

So, what do you do when you get brain bopped by a new idea?

Brain Dumping

First thing to do is get that idea out. Take some time (a day, week, even a month…try not to go longer than that) to just get all of the idea out of your head. Don’t trust that you will remember it, the brain is not that kind. Write it down.

You need to get it out so that it’s not clogging up your current thought processes and brainstorming on your ongoing manuscript.

Write it down in whatever way you need (AT FIRST) just to get it out. This can be creating profiles, noting info about characters, landscapes, plot ideas or even a scene or two that is floating inside your head. Just remember this is JUST clearing it from your mind not working on the new idea!

Organising Methods

Now, writers can get a lot of ideas so you really need to get something in place for organising any ideas that come to you as soon as possible. If you are new to writing, great, this is the BEST time to organise. Because if you’ve been writing for a while and haven’t had an organising plan, then you may have to chug through backlogs of ideas to get them all sorted.

Unfortunately I was in the latter category before I saw the wisdom of organising my ideas. Believe me after you find post-its randomly stuck to things, each with a scribble of an idea down you start to desire a more concise method.

Of course everyone is different so let’s cover a few different methods, after all not everyone will work the same way and what works for one person might not work for another.

Firstly, it’s a good idea to figure out the sort of person you are. Some people need a more visual hands on method, others prefer a simple, digital method. When you know which you are finding the right method will come easily.

INDEX CARDS

I’ve used index cards a lot. You can get a good size pack of them, they can fit into your bag or pocket and be filled in as and when an idea hits.

I liked to use them not the moment the idea hit, but afterwards when I had a little more time (since my ideas hit me at work usually) to write them down in more detail and flesh them out. I would colour code them. The front would usually have the series title (if I knew it), colour coded to that series, along with the date of the idea and the category it fell into.

Then the idea would be scribbled on the back. I then kept them all in an index card box with dividers that split up the different series’.

This could also be used in the same way but with new ideas. You could fill in the cards with the details of the idea and then file them in an index box by genre.

NOTE PADS

Another idea is get a pack of notepad and keep any ideas for the same series in a specific notepad. If you do this though, keep the notepads together so use an elastic band to keep them corralled.

Or if that isn’t your cup of tea, try using one notepad but keep a multicoloured/colour changeable pen with you and for each new story / genre change the colour so that when you scan through you can instantly see which ideas are say for example Sci Fi or romance or horror etc… if you write different genres that is.

EVERNOTE (or similar)

If digital is your preference, then look at software packages such as Evernote or the like. These can help you capture your ideas and keep everything in a central location.

While notepads may not be your thing, you’ve probably typed up ideas on your phone or on your work laptop. In which case you need to make sure you transfer them all into the single location.

Just make sure to keep it backed up on a harddrive or cloud.

IDEAS SHEET TEMPLATE

One of the common methods I use is the Idea Sheet. I have a designed template that I put my ideas into. So when I am hit with an idea, I scribble it down when I can. However I like to have a central point for all my ideas.

Even with using my index cards, which allows me to read through ideas while not on the computer so I can be thinking on them while traveling or during lunch at work, I still like to have my ideas stored in another place.

This is firstly so I have a digital backup and secondly so that I have more space for fleshing ideas out as they grow and develop.

So I created a template that I use for all my ideas. That way there’s a nice uniformity to it. The template includes a space for the date (I always date when the idea hits), the genre, the series or book (if known), then categories that I can define such as characters, plots, locations.

This way if I have an idea that is solely connected around a character idea, I can write chunks about it. Whereas if the next idea is just a plot and no characters yet, I can change the category and note down my plot idea.

These idea sheets are saved in ONE location in my writing folder…well, at least while they are new ideas. So if it’s a brand new story idea it gets stored in my Idea Folder. This is broken down by genre and then an extra folder called “Not sure” because sometimes if you just have a single thought, a vague notion of a character you might not know which genre they will end up in.

If however the idea is (or becomes) one for a current manuscript, this it gets moved into the Ideas folder within that manuscript’s folder. (check out How To Organise your Writing on the Computer)

This way when I’m working on my manuscript I can nip in and out of my ideas folder as needed.

SINGLE DOCUMENT

This has been a suggested idea by another writer. Open up a document like Word and this is your Master Ideas document. Every idea goes on a new page and you can use page breaks to keep them all separate.

You would need to again include info like Genre or some other searchable tag that would make finding things easier. Otherwise you could end up scrolling through many pages to locate an idea or even just try and remember an idea.

This is not my method but I know people like it. As with all methods DO make sure you have a backup system in place. I personally find if a Word document gets very big, it likes to freeze and crash usually just before you save… but that could just be my  personal computer demons.

A Word about Revisiting

In my article Story Ideas: Song of the Muses, I discussed the concept of Floating Ideas. One main point was that you need to periodically revisit your ideas. After all getting them all down is great but if you end up with dozens and dozens you need to keep an eye on them. Who knows, you may be in the middle of a manuscript that one of your ideas would fit perfectly in.

But if that idea hit you 3 years ago and you’ve forgotten it and never checked on it, you would miss that awesome opportunity.

It’s recommended that ever four months go back and look through your ideas. Hence why it’s pretty important to keep them all in a central location to make this task easier.

 

So, how do you organise your ideas? Any tricks or suggestions? These are only a few simple ones, so if you have a different method drop me a comment or leave me a tweet or a note on dA… wherever you feel you can contact me.

☆~☆~☆~☆~☆~☆~☆~☆~☆~☆~☆~☆~☆~☆~☆~☆~☆~☆~☆~☆~☆~☆~☆~☆~☆~☆~☆~☆~

Thanks for your patience regarding my power outage that left me bereft of electricity for a large chunk of yesterday. This article was then delayed today due to an anxiety attack I had earlier on…sooo yeah, not been the best few days. o.O

Anyway, it’s up now and as always I hope you find it useful. If you enjoy what you read here then please consider following this blog. You can follow me via email if you don’t have a blog. Or just pop over every Friday (*cough* sometimes Saturday *cough*) when an article is usually forthcoming.

Thanks to all my awesome watchers and everyone who visits here. It means a lot to me.

Happy writing

Ari

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One thought on “How to organise your ideas

  1. http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2326630/Notes-diagrams-famous-authors-including-J-K-Rowling-Sylvia-Plath-planned-novels.html

    I thought you’d like that article if you haven’t already seen it. It’s really fascinating, actually. This table chart method is used a couple of times here, and it’s really interesting to look at, but I’m kind of a little notebook kind of girl

    Aside from that, I think it also depends on what kind of story it is that taking notes can vary even within an individual. In fan fiction, I just need my OC’s looks and name with a one or two sentence history, and a short outline of how the story will go, and I have a little Caliber notebook to keep all my fan fiction ideas in. Everything else, I’m sure I’ll remember.

    If the original story is supposed to be a short story, I pretty much do the same thing as the fan fiction. If the original story is novel length, I’ll be more detailed in the outline, but it’s not a time table chart. These ideas are also stored in a Caliber notebook, but another one solely for original fiction.

    Now if the story is a CYOA, WWYFF, or is in a universe that is completely fictional, like medieval fantasy or a science fiction or something, where the universe is paramount and needs it’s own identity, then I dedicate an entire Caliber notebook to it. The Caliber notebook has five sections with forty sheets each, so I have at least some orginization:
    Universal Rules, Laws, and History
    Main Characters
    Important Characters
    Other Characters
    Story Outline

    I also write an index for my notes, so if, for example, I don’t have enough room for the characters, then I go to another section with a spare page, and use that, adding onto the Index that this is where that character is.

    The Caliber notebook is my favorite, and has become my official go-to notebook for my story notes. It’s 6.5″ x 9.5″ with small line width for my small handwriting, and still fits thirty lines per page. Pockets. Dividers. Good stuff. The only drawback is that they’re only found in CVS and they’re a bit pricey. Oh well. Still totally worth it. It’s always exciting when you find that perfect tool, like finding the perfect pen to write with.

    Anyway, after a certain incident of accidentally leaving my story notes back in California for six months until my mom brought them with her when she visited, I’ve kept a back up of my notes on my computer. Just in case. It wouldn’t have been a big deal if the story was a regular story, but this story was a CYOA, and it had all my chapter outlines and chapter pathways and I wouldn’t have been able to continue on. I could have lived without the character sheets and even the notes on the universe, but not the chapter outlines.

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