Bottling Inspiration

The best books start here.

Bottling Inspiration

notebooksAh, inspiration. The fickle beast. The elusive muse. That stupid, no-good, completely unreliable jerk. Some writers churn out good ideas by the dozens. Others wait for that one bold stroke of inspiration to strike them between the eyes.

Whether it’s through daydreaming, careful planning, or simply being aware of the world around you, everyone gets ideas in different ways. What’s most important, of course, is what you DO with those ideas.

Recently I was straightening up my apartment when I came across three small notebooks (pictured here for your amusement). I used to always have one of these on me, in my back left pocket, at all times through graduate school, when I was writing short stories, updates for a defunct blog, and jokes for The Onion (if you look closely, you can see the green notebook has “Onion” written very faintly across the top).

I’m terrible at remembering things, especially jokes or ideas. I tried tons of methods to keep track–the notebooks, a small digital recorder, scraps of paper to jam into my wallet–and have since moved on to making notes in my phone if I have nothing else around, though now it’s more notes on someone else’s story than my own creative projects. Logging these ideas, however stupid they may be, has worked wonders for my productivity.

It’s easy to keep track of things when the ideas simply pop, but I’m always amazed at what people can do to try and stoke the inspiration juices. For me, nothing worked other than a deadline. If I needed to write 15 jokes by the end of the week, I’d stare at a blank wall until I had them.

So I’m wondering what you do to keep tabs of the great ideas floating around in your head, and if you have methods for helping to produce them? Do you ask “what if” questions? Free write? Daydream? Poke at your brain with the tip of a pencil?

  1. I also have several notebooks in which to jot down my ideas. One is by my bed as the novel I’m working on now, as well as the one I just finished, were inspired by dreams. My notebook also contains a list of novel ideas for when I finish my current ms – my problem is the list keeps growing yet I don’t have enough time to turn them all into books. Maybe once I’m a full-time writer…:)

    Reply

  2. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by katebarsotti, Upstart Crow. Upstart Crow said: Now on the Upstart Crow blog: Bottling Inspiration (http://tinyurl.com/yhpy2o6) […]

    Reply

  3. I work best verbally. I like to talk through the plot and conflicts with my husband. After I’ve figured things out through conversation, I jot down notes, draw maps, and sometimes I outline the book scene by scene on post-it notes and then arranged them in a timeline on the wall near my desk.

    Reply

  4. So far in my writing career, ideas have come to me unbidden and in large quantities. (knocks wood here) Fortunately, this hasn’t stopped me from completing long-term writing (novels), but it does result in my having about 3-4 projects working at once. For instance, I have a completed novel I’m working on revising, another new novel that I’m only 3 chapters into and a few picture book ideas I keep trying from different angles.
    I’m a voice-type writer, so when I get an idea, I just write, letting the character jabber until he/she runs out of things to say. I might try 4 or 5 different versions/beginnings and I save them all. I let those ruminate while I go back to (or onto) another project.
    Most ideas come to me inconveniently, however – while I’m in the shower or on a run or in the car – forcing me to chant a key phrase over and over until I can get to a pen and paper;)

    Reply

  5. I go running, or do dishes or laundry. My mind wanders and then ideas just float into my head. I run and grab my notebook and scribble precious idea down. (Unless I’m running and then I chant the idea until I get home, then scribble.) I NEVER get good ideas while I’m staring at the computer or blank piece of paper. Crappy computer is a creativity sucker.

    Oh, and tub crayons are awesome. I’ve written some of my best ideas on my shower wall.

    Reply

  6. As long as a shred is jotted down on an index card or scratch piece of paper, eventually the idea hatches . . . incubation time varies.

    Reply

  7. For work, it’s the deadline that gets me. Got have the column done on Tuesday at 9 AM? I wake up on Tuesday at 5:30 and punch the sucker out.

    For my book, it’s all about combining daydreams with a marketable concept.

    Reply

  8. Inefficient though they may be, scraps of paper are my main tool. I try to write notes in one notebook, but I still end up with stacks of torn envelopes and magazine edges scattered on tables and shoved into pockets. When I can’t find paper, I write on my arm. When I can’t find a pen, I text myself, snap a photo of some inspiration w/ my phone, or employ the already mentioned chanting method. The hardest part is finding time to type up these random notes, but as I type them, I often generate more ideas and freewrite from them.

    Many thanks to Liesl above for the tub crayons idea! Showering always generates more ideas than I can ever remember to jot down after. Great idea.

    Reply

  9. Moleskines! Usually what comes to me in a flash are bits of dialog. I write those down, then when I get to write the scene, I take it much further.

    If I’m utterly lacking in inspiration, I take a (very short) break and look at things that inspire me – lamp posts, city streets, cafes.

    I also read dialog heavy television scripts. That helps me a lot. 🙂

    Reply

  10. I have a document in my computer with story ideas. I also have notebooks everywhere, including with me at all times, and I have texted myself a couple of ideas, as well.

    I try to log the notebook and texted/scrap-of-paper ideas into the word document as soon as I can so they are all in one place.

    My ideas tend to come pretty randomly, kind of like Stephen King describes in ON WRITING. I see something and that combines with something else to become a story idea. For example, I got into bed one night and put my head on two hangers that were sitting on my pillow. I did not remember putting them there, at all. That spawned another thought, which turned into a story idea.

    I’m not someone who has been writing my entire life, so I used to think I was just weird. What a relief to realize those random thoughts have a purpose! LOL.

    Reply

  11. I LOVE posts like this! I think surrounding yourself with positive people is key. Also being able to have a variety of life experiences. Participating in creative exercises.

    But you know, I really do think some people are wired differently. If you put a hundred people in a room and ask them to paint a field or crowd, etc., 99 of the paintings will look very similar. Only 1 will painting will look like a Picasso. But we all don’t have to be a Picasso to be happy and successful…. just ramblings here. This topic really does fascinate me.

    Reply

  12. Going out to buy tub crayons…

    Reply

  13. The nagivators in my head are in charge. And lately one is the dominatrix and commands the next book and the next book..altho she is a precocious five…(when she grows up heaven help us all).

    Other than that it is usually lists (the story of my life)…Franz Liszt, Chopin list…I am never listless.

    Seriously, I just go back and forth between myself, my writing and my art. There’s three of us.

    Reply

  14. I have a friend who frequently says during our every day conversations “You should write about that” or “That would be a great story.” I am starting to learn to internalize that voice and whenever something that I read or hear strikes me, I think “How can I write about that? Where can I write about that? What should I write about that?”

    I seem never to be lacking in ideas.

    Reply

  15. Great topic! I keep small and large notebooks everywhere, including in my purse and next to my bed for middle-of-the-night inspiration.

    I even discovered waterproof paper and pens for writing in the shower: Write Naked!

    I do a lot of freewriting and quick writing exercises to generate ideas. I try to keep it fun and playful for maximum inspiration, and I post exercises I create on my blog, Strangling My Muse: Struggling to Live a Creative Life in a Stressful World.

    Reply

  16. I have always kept a notebook so that I can record ideas, plotlines, characters, etc. as they occur to me. Lately as I have begun to finish long term projects though, I have changed a bit and come to trust myself a little more. I have been leaving my ideas in my mind to percolate like in an old fashioned coffee maker and they have been coming out rich and ready when I want them. (of course, I occasionally write them down too – just in case.)

    Reply

  17. I get inspiration from everywhere it seems. If I don’t write it down I lose it pretty quick though. I send text messages/emails to myself and then sort them into categories so I can find a line/situation/plot idea easily when I need it. Occasionally I’ll just go looking through what I have, and that brings on a whole new list of ideas. When I’m stuck though, a hot bath always seems to help. If I try too hard, inspiration won’t come. I have to relax to let the ideas flow.

    Reply

  18. I’m a HUGE “What -Iffer.” I spend a lot of time milling one idea over in my head if I find an interesting enough “if.” I don’t start writing until most of it is figured out. I also don’t write down notes, because I like to go over it everyday and add onto it. I feel like I know my story inside and out by the time I’m ready to write.

    When I teach kids in the classroom, we spend a good chunk of time asking “What if” and trying to pay attention to certain thoughts that come into our heads, rather than just let them slip on by. I think it’s productive to make ourselves pay attention to those thoughts. Sometimes we just have funny conversations wondering what would happen in a certain situation, but it always teaches them how to carry out a creative thought. Even if it’s just a quick one paged idea.

    Reply

  19. I like to take long, aimless drives; it’s a great way to work out the details. Also, long showers under the hot water really helps let the mind run free.

    But, my personal favorite, and most effective method, is to picture my ideas as if I were watching a movie. With my book, for instance, I start on page one, and imagine it’s a film. And, if something works for me, it becomes carved in stone. If I forget it, then it wasn’t something I wanted to use anyway.

    Great blog!

    Reply

  20. What I DO with those ideas is exactly my problem: usually nothing productive.

    I’m aware this sounds stupid, but a few years ago I had this (brilliant) idea for a middle grade book. I wrote about 60 pages, hit a wall and swore off it forever. I’d pick it back up now and again with new devotion, determined to finish the sucker. Months later, with resolve weakened yet again, I embraced every possible distraction that came my way, and yes, tossed it aside like a used kleenex. Try as I might to abandon it, I’d find myself writing it in my head every time I got in the car. Or, standing at the counter I’d quickly get back on the computer and write a little. I could go on with how disciplined I became with a writing schedule. Still.. I was really getting nowhere.

    THEN, one day, I walked into Barnes & Noble and noticed a book on a great display for middle readers…It was 98% my story. I fell to my knees and literally whimpered and moaned and texted my friend for some sympathy. Who knows if i what I wrote would have ever gotten published and beaten “that book” to the punch. Whatever the case, I was truly shocked.

    Good thing is, it forced me to revamp what I had started. And it made me realize that my ideas were right on. And also that I was a total slacker. Now if I can just keep writing down those good ideas and do something smart with them….

    Reply

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *