Last week we talked about ideas, and where they come from. This week we'll talk about your "Ideas file." Do you keep one? If not, I strongly urge you to. It can be anything from index cards in a recipe box, to a spiral notebook, to a folder in your computer -- but whatever your method for saving, if you don't write those ideas down I guarantee they'll get lost.
My Ideas File is a combination of all of the above. I carry a small notebook with me at all times, keep another one beside my bed, and have a file folder in my computer. Not to mention napkins, Post-It notes and the backs of grocery store receipts. When the notebooks and various bits of paper accumulate to the bursting point, I transfer it all to my computer. My Ideas File in my computer contains ideas for future books, bits of overheard conversation, colorful people I've met or observed, characters' names... everything but the kitchen sink. (We'll discuss clichés at a later date.) Most of the stuff in there I've forgotten about, until I open the file to take a look. And that's exactly why I add all these bits of information to my Ideas File -- because if I don't, it will vanish into the back compartments of my brain, never to see the light of day again.
Even though I know I'll never be able to use it all, at least it's there. Then, on the rare occasion when I find myself between projects and wondering what to write next, my Ideas File is there to remind me about that plan I had to name all the characters in a novel after towns in Minnesota. (Jackson Pratt? Hugo McKinley? Iona Hibbing?)
And as long as I've said that, I will mention here that broad ideas are not copyrightable. Anyone reading this blog could now write a novel and name all the characters after towns in Minnesota -- or any other state -- and I'd have no legal recourse. Am I concerned? Not a bit. Because any two people writing on the same idea will end up with very different finished products.
The notebook next to my bed has been an important tool. It's been proven that in those few seconds before we fall asleep, our brains have a brief burst of creativity. Maybe this is a precursor to dreaming, but whatever the reason I know there've been many occasions when I've been just about to drop off when the most brilliant writing idea has popped into my head. I lay there thinking, "This is terrific. Why didn't I think of this before? A best-seller for sure..." Lacking the energy to get up out of bed and go to my desk in the other room, I convinced myself I'd remember this wonderful new idea in the morning. But, you guessed it, in the morning it was gone. Thus the notebook next to my bed. Now when I have an idea I just write down a few key words to refresh my memory.
Interestingly, the next morning I've found that about 90% of those previously "brilliant" ideas were garbage, probably the ramblings of an overly tired brain. But at least I had my notes. Without them, I would always believe that most dazzling idea got away from me.
So keep an Ideas File, and use it to store all those details that your brain doesn't have room for.
"Everybody walks past a thousand story ideas every day. The good writers are the ones who see five or six of them. Most people don't see any." Orson Scott Card