5 Tips For Keeping Your Idea File Fresh – A Lifeline For Freelance Writers

by Anne Wayman

Although I know writing ideas really are everywhere there are days when I need to write and simply don’t seem to have any idea at all what to write. Fortunately I seem to have plenty of ideas, just not always exactly when I want them.

My answer to this dilemma is the idea file.

Actually I maintain several, which creates its own set of problems.

Here’s what I actually do, at least most of the time:

  1. On my desktop is are a couple of idea documents – one is called blogging ideas and another is the novel. When I’m at the computer, which is where I do most of my work, and an idea pops up I write it down in one of those documents. When I can’t think of something to write for this or my other blogs I open the file and there is a whole list things I can write about. I keep the documents on my desktop so they are super easy to find.
  2. When I use an idea I only strike through it and date it because most of those ideas can be reworked into multiple blog posts. 
  3. I usually have a 3×5 or two cards in my purse. The main purpose of these is to record expenses I don’t get receipts for, but I also write down writing ideas there. It works because almost every week I take that card out to bring my expenses up to date almost every weekend and that’s when I transcribe the ideas there to the appropriate idea document.

  4. Recently I’ve broken a couple of big projects into baby steps, each with it’s own list of steps document. It’s dawned on me that at least some of those baby steps would make ideal blog posts. So I put baby step lists on the blog idea list.
  5. I also have several clients I keep lists on, particularly press release ideas – each list is in the client’s folder. I’ve added client lists to the blog idea document

There’s a problem with multiple lists – they really can cross pollinate, but only if I think of the other list when I’m searching for an idea. On the other hand, to keep everything in one big list just gets too confusing, at least for me.

While I have some ability to remember ideas, it’s risky because life happens; if I don’t write it down it’s apt to be gone, maybe forever. Keeping my lists seems to be part of my writing discipline.

How do you capture ideas?

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Image: Attribution Some rights reserved by juliejordanscott

{ 13 comments… read them below or add one }

Kristen King September 14, 2011 at 11:44 am

Excellent tips! I have recently restarted my running “ideas” list after ignoring it for ages, and I’m amazed at what I can come up with! I’m also distressed by what brilliant ideas I must have forgotten and lost forever in the time I was not writing them down regularly. Oh well, lesson learned! Thanks for a great article.

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Anne September 15, 2011 at 12:45 pm

Karen, I’ll bet the really good ideas resurface… good to see you here.

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Laura | Bitsmith September 13, 2011 at 8:03 pm

I agree that if I don’t get a thought recorded right away, it may be gone forever.

Like John Soares, I use a voice recorder. It’s small enough to carry in my pocket when hiking (which is when I get my best ideas), or in my car or purse when I’m running errands.

I’m in the habit of transferring my recordings as soon as possible (usually in the evening) to my master lists on my computer, where I have lists for each project/topic.

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Anne September 15, 2011 at 12:44 pm

Good for you Laura… I know recording works for many.

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John Soares September 13, 2011 at 7:10 pm

I love my little digital voice recorder for capturing all of my ideas. I also have several Word documents broken down by category for collecting those ideas.

I schedule idea review sessions 2-3 times a week, both to listen to my voice recorder and to evaluate my ideas.
John Soares recently posted..How to Capture, Save, and Review Your Freelance Writing IdeasMy Profile

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Anne September 15, 2011 at 12:43 pm

I may have to try recording again… the problem is I tend to chatter to my recorder… which makes it awful to transcribe… brevity must be the secret to recording.

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Grady Pruitt September 13, 2011 at 9:25 am

I keep a small, pocket sized memo notebook for taking notes whenever I happen to be away from the computer. I find it really helps me.

I noticed one of your files is “the novel”. Ever here of NaNoWriMo (nanowrimo.org)? 50k novel in 30 days. I’ve done it the last 6 years and thinking of doing it again this year. Starts Nov 1.
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Anne September 13, 2011 at 11:21 am

Grady, I’m almost ashamed to tell you I’ve registered for NaNoWriMo for umpteen years and haven’t managed to complete it yet… maybe this is the year? I wondered if anyone would pick up on that reference… ;)

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Dana Prince September 13, 2011 at 8:40 am

I have an idea file as well. I keep lists for client gig ideas, for my own niche blogs, and new ideas. I usually keep a few Word files on my laptop and have one or two on my desktop, too. I was using a list or two as well, that I’d carry around or leave in my purse. Nowadays, when I’m out and about and an idea strikes I use the Dragon Naturally Speaking Lite app on my iPhone and say my ideas into my phone and then email them to myself.
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Lori September 13, 2011 at 8:26 am

Anne, I swear to God we’re joined at the brain cells. My post today is about ideas! I’ll send some folks over…

I too keep client lists. It’s the best way to keep track of whom it is you’ve worked with, talked to, promised something to. I date every contact I have with a client on a spreadsheet, and I make sure to follow up every few months.
Lori recently posted..Ideas and How to Use ThemMy Profile

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Bill Swan September 12, 2011 at 9:16 pm

The problem with my lists, is that I either set them aside and forget them or I make them too damn big. I never did get into putting stuff on the desktop. Maybe another idea I can try before this year is out.
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Sharon Hurley Hall September 12, 2011 at 1:02 pm

I’ve got a blogging ideas document on my desktop, too, Anne. I have headings for each of the blogs I write regularly for, as well as a miscellaneous section for random ideas that have no particular home. I like the idea of keeping the list and striking them through so they can be used in a different way elsewhere.
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Nicky Parry September 12, 2011 at 11:41 am

Great ideas & tips. I especially love the “baby steps”. I too always carry a pen & a notepad with me, so I’m always equipped for action when I have an epiphany! I’m also a big fan of Evernote, & I have it on my iPhone, so often add ideas in there too.
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