Little File of Big Ideas

I’ve had one of these for years. Actually, I’ve had several for years – I tend to back them up when changing computers, then be too lazy to go looking and start a new one anyway. It’s where I write down all the nifty ideas that come to me when I’m working on something else, or too busy to deal with them right away. I realized years ago that if I don’t write them down, no matter how brilliant and memorable they seem at the time, sooner or later I will forget. Especially given my Queen Of Bad Memory status.

I’ve got everything in there, including genres I almost never read – there’s one plot for a tech-thriller that just won’t drop out of my head – ready for me to come back to them. I almost never write a story as soon as I have the idea. I can’t. If I do, it invariably dies on the page, because the plot hasn’t had enough time to germinate and put down roots in my head. I need to think it over, play with it, write it down, let it simmer for a while in the back of my head… and then come back and see what grows. Sometimes it’s nothing, occasionally it’s something truly amazing. Occasionally I go through and delete a few ideas that no longer seem big, because it’s possible to grow out of ideas.

But it’s a wonderful thing to have, and I strongly recommend it to any writer. It lets you walk away from an idea you’re not ready for, or one that needs more germinating time, and come back later knowing you won’t forget or lose it. Obviously you should back this particular document up to hell and back. I favour dropbox and USB, but in general just make sure it’s in at least three places that won’t all die simultaneously. Back it up along with your writing, so it’s all safe together, that’s always best.

And go back and reread it from time to time. It’s wonderful the good ideas you’ll find there that you completely forgot that you had, waiting like little gifts from your past self.

Three guesses what *I* was doing this morning…


2 thoughts on “Little File of Big Ideas

  1. Oddly enough I have heard exactly the opposite advice from Stephen King, who at a talk at U-Mass said that keeping such a file was a perfect way to store bad ideas, and that the good ones will stay with you for years and years.

    I disagree, though. I’m in your camp. I have little notebooks and word files full of plot bunnies, and though a lot of them have been lost through reshuffling they’re always fun to go back to. What’s really interesting is the number of times that two or three of them will merge into an even greater idea, and suddenly you have to write that!

  2. It’s like every other piece of writing advice – your mileage may vary. Stephen King, I suspect, has a better memory than I do. If your memory is bad, you really can lose good ideas just as easily as bad ones – and while a bad or just not-good-enough idea can be culled from the list when you go back through it, a good idea lost is lost forever.

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