I know I just posted about how good ideas can be overrated. That said, if you have a good idea, it’s a good idea to write the good idea down. Because even if you think your good idea is so good that it will stick in your brain forever there is a high probability that it won’t.

One of the difficult things about being a writer is inspiration usually hits at very inopportune times. Driving, in the middle of a shower, cooking risotto, or yes, even while changing a poopy diaper. (What kind of ideas do you get while changing a poopy diaper? Saving for another post.) All of a sudden something sparks in my mind. I get an image, a sentence floats in my brain, the answer to a plot problem suddenly becomes evident.

A million swear words! Where’s a pen and paper!

How can we avoid letting those sparks of inspiration slip through those cracks (or gaping holes) in our brains? I have let enough ideas slip that I am now pretty neurotic when it comes to keeping them. Here are a few ideas for keeping ideas.

  1. If you don’t have pen and paper, find a way to make it stick. Refuse to let the idea leave your conscious train of thought. Say it out loud if you have to. Make up a song about it, put a voicemail on your phone, just don’t let it leave the front of your brain until you can get it down on something solid.
  2. Write it down ASAP. You may think that because the idea is spectacular you will remember it. You might, but why take the risk? You may lose some wonderful details that were there in the initial stages of your idea. Don’t trust your faulty brain. Get it down as soon as you can.
  3. A little notebook in your purse, car, nightstand. I can’t think of a single good idea that has come to me while staring at a computer screen, whether it was the seeds of a new story or the answer to a problem in my current work. J.K. Rowling got the idea for Harry Potter while on a train. The idea for The Hunger Games was born while Suzanne Collins was flipping channels on TV. So having a little notebook in your pocket or purse can save the day. A notebook next to your bed can save the night. I often get ideas while I’m drifting off to sleep and I absolutely know I will not remember it in the morning, so I quickly jot it down. I usually get to sleep much faster after that.

Sometimes the ideas are golden and they blossom into what I believe are great stories. Other times they fall flat, but I can’t know that the instant they come into my brain. So I try to savor every idea, try not to let one slip through those gaping holes. You never know. One of those ideas could turn into your best story ever.

Add to the list! Do you have creative ways of capturing ideas?


  1. The shower.

    I read in a magazine about a mom who did her best thinking in the shower so she bought those shower crayons and would write lists all over the shower walls.

    • Liesl

    • September 18, 2009

    • 6:46 pm

    Genius! And I already have the tub crayons!

    • JaxPop

    • September 25, 2009

    • 6:12 pm

    Ah! Timely. Just telling my wife the other day that I had this great idea for a story – from one of those ‘daydreams’ you get when you can’t get to sleep. It was about 2AM. I was going to get up & tap out some stuff on the computer so I wouldn’t forget (outline? – don’t normally care for outlining). I didn’t & now…. it’s gone. All I remember is this cool little old man & a strange lesson. Good post.

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