Where do you put your ideas?

Yesterday’s post almost didn’t happen.

It was looking pretty good to begin with. My son fell asleep pretty quickly, and I was in front of the keyboard by nine. Given it takes me about an hour to write a post, I figured I’d be in by ten at the latest—something I haven’t managed to do in months.

At a quarter past eleven, with little more than a title (and a bad one  at that), I was ready to give up. I even tapped out a few paragraphs about how I couldn’t think of anything to write about, just so could post something up. But then I spotted the book I bought last night, connected it with an idea I had a few weeks ago, and the rest was frantic typing.

This happens a lot when I write. I’ll have a topic I want to write about, but it needs something else before I can get it to work properly. Once I find the combination that works, the writing is pretty easy.

But last night I had nothing to begin with, and nothing leapt into my mind to fill the void.

What I needed was a list of ideas I could draw from. I have one of those lists. In fact, I have dozens of them. Unfortunately I can never find them when I need them most.

Last year I bought half a dozen or so spiral-bound notebooks. The idea was to have one in my pocket at all times so I could write down ideas whenever they popped into my head. (“Bring pillow to next budget meeting.”) Unfortunately they kept snagging on the mesh pockets of my shorts, so I stopped using them.

(And before I go any further, the shorts were your standard, run-of-the-mill shorts, okay? It was the pockets that were mesh.)

At one stage I had a digital tape recorder, and I thought it would be a great way to store my ideas. But I felt really stupid talking into it in public, so that idea didn’t last very long at all.

I now have an iPhone, which I can use to type out my ideas. But it can be a real pain to whip out and start typing on, especially if I’m in the middle of a game of Line Up.

And of course I have dozens of ideas in files scattered across my computer’s hard drive (with meaningful names like “Ideas” and “Stuff”).

What I need is a way to bring all this stuff together in one place, and have it with me wherever I go so I can refer to it when I need an idea, and quickly add ideas as they come to me. It needs to be easy to use, small enough to fit in a pocket, and preferably waterproof. (You have no idea how many notebooks I’ve lost in the wash.)

If you know of such a thing, please let me know. It will help me not only write better blog posts, but also catch up on some much-needed sleep.

{ 5 comments… add one }
  • Bailey February 20, 2010, 12:35 am

    Mini Moleskine notebooks are my idea catchers of choice -they fit nicely in the back pocket of a pair of jeans and they’re durable. Plus, they won’t snag on your shorts, mesh or otherwise. 😉 I use one at a time. They’re also relatively inexpensive, which is great.

  • Lori February 20, 2010, 12:42 am

    Hey Bill!

    I use a small red moleskine. I keep it in my purse/bag at all times.
    I prefer the hard cover one so it doesn’t get ruined from being thrown about in my bag. It might fit into your pocket, but it’s definitely not water proof. Though, because it has a hard cover, I’d like to think I’d be less likely to accidentally toss it into the wash. (Though I wouldn’t put it past me!) I also love that the moleskines have that cute little pocket. I put business cards or receipts or other scraps of paper in there that help me remember a funny story or contact details etc.

    When I’ve filled up a moleskine, I try to transfer my ideas online to my highrisehq.com account. Instead of using the “contacts” as contacts, I use them to record projects/ideas. 🙂

  • Rebecca Laffar-Smith February 20, 2010, 12:45 am

    I have a single dump file on my laptop’s desktop that is called “On Hold”. It’s a massive running idea list but, surprisingly, I very rarely call upon it for inspiration. I also have several spiral notebooks, they’re larger than pocket size but they fit in my handbag and are handy to have around. I have larger, A4 notepads too, for when I’m doing more than jotting down ideas and instead want to put together something with more flesh and bone. And another without lines for when I’m sketching website designs.

    For me, this system of notepads and the mass text file works. It works in an “Idea Waterfall” sense. In learning to accept, acknowledge, and write down ideas as they come to me I find they come more readily.

    Consider making time each week particularly for brainstorming.

    Meanwhile, maybe what you need is a techno-gadget like an iPhone or Blackberry. They’re like notepads, without the spiral binding. I’m not sure how watertight they are however.

  • Ben February 20, 2010, 6:37 am

    Check out Evernote. I used to do the notebook thing too, but it never really worked out.

  • Sara February 22, 2010, 3:28 pm

    You’ve hit the nail on the head here Bill! I’ve just spent a morning trying to track down all the different notes I’ve written for ideas over the past year – from scraps of post-its to a hard drive file and a few spiral bound notebooks. They are all now in some kind of logical order in my Moleskine. The next step (still too daunting) is to turn them into a story.
    My biggest problem is that inspiration strikes at the most inconvenient times. When I’m in the shower, as I’m falling asleep at night, or when I’m looking for bits of lego under the sofa for my 4 year old. So I never quite have the moleskine handy when I need it most…


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