How do you keep track of your ideas?

by | Jun 3, 2015 | The Writing Life | 18 comments

The first rule of inspiration is that the best ideas come to you in the precise moment when you are least equipped to write them down.

How do you make sure you don’t lose those ideas? How do you keep track of them?

My method is pretty simple: I email them to myself. Chances are my phone is nearby and if it’s not, I’m probably too panicked to have a good idea anyway.

I may have a problem.

What about you?

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Art: The Alchymist, In Search of the Philosopher’s Stone by Joseph Wright


  1. A.L.

    I have a google docs file with the ideas that last in my head. At present it's at about 15 pages of story ideas, premises, and attempts at back cover copy to keep the story idea in mind when I read it later.

  2. Brian Clegg

    I use Evernote which I have both on my phone and computer, so always there to store something away.

  3. Stacy McKitrick

    I keep a notebook in my purse (and near my bed) and then will transfer the idea to my book notes document on my computer.

  4. D Writer

    I use my to-do list manager Remember The Milk. It's actually perfect for this use, as I can create a list titled with the project name, list out high level ideas a items, and then attach notes to each, from fully formed ideas to areas to explore or even actual dialogue. And since I can access RTM from my phone and computer (and it always stays synched), I never miss out on or lose ideas.

  5. Inkling

    Like you, I email a note to myself. That makes sure I notice it. I even found an app for my iPhone, MeMail, that does a good job of that. It'll even let me speech-to-text that message, which saves time over typing.

  6. Norma Beishir

    I have a Color Note app on both of my phones, all four tablets and my computer. I can take a note on any of them and it will sync on all devices.

  7. L.K.

    Google Keep on my phone, then color-coded for the writing category (as opposed to grocery lists, to do lists, and other random bits). I can access it in the cloud when I get home.

  8. Pimion

    Hi,Nathan. It's been a while since your last post.
    I always have notebook and pen with me. So I write down every idea that comes into my mind. Emailing idea is brilliant by the way.

  9. vernonlee

    I'll take notes on whatever piece of paper I have at the moment (universal capture) and then use the following 3 systems:

    1) Major Info for current WIP: WorkFlowy — a good drag-and-drop hierarchical list-maker that's especially good for organizing all the info related to one project, with descending bullet points covering separate areas (notes about a character/location/story element/etc.);

    2) Current WIP Detail + Future Project Nortes: Ulysses for Mac — a markdown doc management system that works similarly to Scrivener (but seems faster and less unwieldy than Scrivener);

    3) Saved Articles: Evernote — great for interesting articles containing story/location ideas

  10. Mirka Breen

    A little old notebook, unassuming and not particularly cool, which makes it cutting edge, right?
    That's my idea repository.

  11. Raquel Byrnes

    I have a voice recorder app on my phone. Totally indispensable. I just blurt out whatever's been needling at me and save it or send it to myself via email. LOVE it!

  12. Bryan Russell

    I surgically attached a thumb drive to my brain, and then I just think the ideas over to the thumb drive. It looks a little funny, but luckily I have a fine hat collection.

  13. Beryl Hall Bray

    I have a journal for my novel (ideas) and initial the ideas I use.

    For short stories, I put my ideas at the end of my work-in-progress and put a line through the ideas used.

    I enjoy my system though I admit, if I looked better in hats, I would consider the thumb drive.

  14. Unknown

    I just use Msft OneNote. Nothing special. I have a notebook for personal notes and blat ideas there. I have several Windows desktops, laptops, and tablets that I switch between and my notebook is current on all of them.

  15. Jory

    I use the Notes on my phone until I can copy them into my "Idea Journal"

  16. Jory

    Sometimes Evernote, if the idea is more than just a premise, since I have it on every device and it syncs.

  17. Ivana Taylor

    So true. Sometimes Evernote and often Circa Levenger notebook system. It's a paper note system that has pages that can be pulled out and reordered/reorganized as ideas evolve. Many size and binder organization options. When Ideas are good, I'll take pics and save in Evernote so they are everywhere.

  18. Rosie Albrecht

    I've been keeping a notebook of ideas for years, and it's served me well. It lets me have all my ideas in one easily accessible place. I literally never leave the house without it, just in case I have some brilliant I need to write down.


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Hi, I’m Nathan. I’m the author of How to Write a Novel and the Jacob Wonderbar series, which was published by Penguin. I used to be a literary agent at Curtis Brown Ltd. and I’m dedicated to helping authors chase their dreams. Let me help you with your book!

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