Notes and Note Taking

What do you do when inspiration strikes at an inconvenient time? And by inconvenient I mean just as you're about to drop off to sleep, or about to step into the shower, or you're driving down the highway during a snow storm?

I hear a voice in my head that sounds suspiciously like Dolly Garland of Kaizen Journaling (not that I've ever heard her voice, but it's what I imagine her voice to sound like) telling me "that's what your journal is for," (I also imagine her tacking "fool" onto the end of that sentence, but that's probably just me). But writing down an idea in your journal only works if you happen to have your journal right there when inspiration strikes. And sad to say, not everyone keeps a journal for that purpose.

My memory isn't my best feature and I know that if I don't write an idea down when it comes to me it vanishes back into the aether from whence it came. So whenever possible I write it down. And I will write it down on whatever comes to hand - the back of an envelope, a napkin, a scrap of paper . . . although I usually try to use a notebook because notebooks are harder to lose than scraps of paper.

I keep notebooks and pens all over the house. There's one on my beside table and if inspiration strikes before I fall asleep I'll turn the light back on and write it down. One night the perfect solution to a problem I was having with a story came to me after my husband dropped off to sleep, and I wrote in the dark. And yes, my writing was legible enough that I could read it in the morning. I have several pens and notepads in my purse and I have been known to write while driving, but only if the idea is really good because my handwriting in this case is less than stellar.

However, even with all these notebooks I still find myself jotting down sudden bursts of brilliance on whatever's available. In the beginning, a long, long, time ago, I would copy these notes into various notebooks. Attempts at organizing these notebooks invariably failed. There was no way to group notes together by topic because the ideas didn't come to me in a logical manner, they came to me randomly.

So then I'd rip the pages out of the notebooks to add to the scraps of paper and I'd end up with a pile of easy-to-lose pearls of wisdom that got stuck in folders marked "Miscellaneous." The problem was, these file folders also contained cards, photographs, articles, old report cards - you name it. The folders got stuck in different file drawers and I promptly forgot what was in there.

While going through the agony of reorganizing my office, I stumbled across almost a dozen of these miscellaneous folders and I went through each one, pulling out anything to do with my writing. But I was back to the same problem, what do I do with all these notes so I don't lose them? To be perfectly honest, transferring them to my journal or a notebook wasn't all that appealing, not only because it seemed like a waste of time, but I was also afraid they'd get lost in the shuffle, just like when they were in the miscellaneous files. Who wants to flip through pages and pages of notes looking for something that may, or may not, be there?

Then it occurred to me. Envelopes. I have a 6 x 9 inch envelope in a holder on my desk that's marked "Receipts" and its purpose is to keep all my receipts for the year together so I don't lose any of them. It works great. Why not do the same with my notes? I can label the envelopes according to their contents - one each for story ideas according to genre, one each for the notes for novels I'm working on, one for lines of poetry - it's perfect. I know at a glance what's in each one, and I don't have to worry about anything getting lost. I love being organized! :-)

How do you handle your notes?


Mia Hayson said...

I once watched a TED talk about inspiration in which a guy had an idea while driving and, instead of pulling over or repeating it all the way home, he just shouted, "Can't you see I'm driving?!" and told the idea to come back later.

Sometimes I do that. If it's a real whopper of an idea, my mind tends to circle back to it eventually. I like to think in the circling process it builds itself into something fully formed, too.

Failing that (and it does fail pretty often) I have loads of notebooks. Haven't yet found a way to organise them but the envelopes idea seems really great!


mooderino said...

i always used to lose track of ideas, but I made a file on my computer and make a point to transfer anything on bits of paper as soon as I can so they're all in one place.

Moody Writing

Jamie D. said...

I used to keep a tiny notebook with me...I have no idea where it is now, but there are some good ideas in it. LOL

I've gone almost completely paperless, which I'm quite sure I'll regret if any kind of apocalypse ever happens, but it's served me well for quite a few years now. I have an "ideas" file on my thumb drive (which goes with me to work and back), that I used to just jot down notes in, and now I use Evernote, which I can access anywhere with my tablet (I have an "ideas" note in the file for each pen name, and a separate one for ideas when the genre isn't immediately evident).

As far as getting ideas in bed or driving or whatever, I've always been of the opinion that if they're that good, I'll remember them later. Otherwise, I let them go. I have gotten out of bed once to go write down a plot "eureka" - but I just went to the computer and put it in Evernote.

I can't imagine dealing with all those scraps of paper anymore...but I suppose perhaps handling them helps cement the idea in your mind? LOL