I’ve seen a lot of articles about writer’s block, something I thankfully have never really experienced. My biggest issue with writing is at the opposite end of the spectrum: I think of ideas much faster than I can write them. I’ve wondered how many other writers have this problem, trying to catch up with the inspirations before they fade away?
I remember Anne Rice saying something to this effect in an interview many years ago. She described a story she felt she was “losing” because other projects had her attention and there just isn’t time to do everything at once. In order to develop some of the ideas I have bombarding me while working on other projects, I’ve become a prolific note taker.
Not just scribbles about general ideas, but sometimes full scenes. A conversation going through my head between characters who haven’t actually got a book to have it in will go on a Word file and get put in an appropriate folder, sometimes titled fairly generally so that the story can grow up around these snippets.
I have one story that was actually started back in the 1980s, but each chapter is an episode so that time passing between writing one chapter and the next doesn’t greatly affect continuity as it would most of my stories. I’ve actually committed to finishing that one, The Chase for Choronzon, and making it my next fiction release, though I’m on a push to finish The Chaonomicon, a non-fiction work, in time for a conference in July. All this while juggling film work!
Ideas can come from all sorts of places. It isn’t unusual just watching the news in the morning to see an actual incident and extrapolate it further into a suspense story idea, although I don’t write in that genre (so far!) The question is, what to do with ideas that sneak in when you’re actually working on something unrelated?
Many writers keep some form of notepad to scribble on at all times. This is a good idea, but I’ve learned to take it a step further and add the notes to an appropriate electronic file where they will be seen when I work on the relevant project. Otherwise those paper notes can float around for years in unread notebooks and scraps of paper. A few years ago I actually gathered all of the paper notes that had accrued over time and entered them into my computer files, backed up of course.
A simple filing system can save all those inspirations from getting lost. For example, I separate types of writing into different folders; Articles, books, short stories and scripts. I put a number one in front of them so that they stay together at the top of my computer filing system, above all the countless folders that accrue on a typical computer.
Within each of these folders I’ll have an ordinary text file, usually in Word, although you could use Notepad or any other text file type. Generally I title this file ‘Ideas’ or ‘Development’. This is where random story concepts get scribbled. Often this is no more than a working title or a sentence or two to express a general concept.
If the story takes hold and more details or an outline begin to form, the story gets a sub-folder and if there is a series, an additional sub-folder for each story as the series develops. Inside each separate story folder will be a file simply called ‘Notes’. This might contain historic references, plot notes or actual lines that come to mind, separated by a line of dashes, but in random order. Ideally, I read through the notes file before starting each chapter and incorporate the lines and plot elements as well as referencing any historic or technical notes.
This all sounds very organised, but it’s actually very simple. The notes files are random depositories for all those scribbled notes that used to go on scraps of paper or in notebooks, or that get transferred if hard copy was used while I was out. Putting it in the file for the relevant story makes it all accessible when I’m ready to work on that specific story.
What about ideas that might apply to a story I don’t have worked out yet? A Word file for collecting those general notes is just inside the fiction books folder. I try to have a look at this between books, though I can be inconsistent about it. It’s great fun to come across notes about ideas that have slipped my mind and to get re-inspired by the memory they trigger!
Everything from character names to plot twists is worth writing down. The imaginative writer can get flooded with ideas that stand a chance of getting lost forever, but can be preserved so easily. The only trouble with my notes files is that I will have to live to at least a hundred and fifty to write them all!
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