Last week, I attended an author talk by Sherman Alexie (more about his talk later in the week). One of his tips (for more author tips, check out this recent post from my friend, Amitha) was to consider the everyday. Look around for ideas, and note everything down. As a short story writer, I love this idea, but I have to admit, Baby curtails my note-taking abilities. Here are four ways I jot down my story ideas.
1. My phone
I have an iPhone (it’s a marvelous way to document Baby’s every day) and use the voice record function every other day. With the addition of a headset–kept in an easy to reach pocket in my purse–the phone becomes a nifty little mp3 recorder. So, while on my walks with Baby, I tuck the phone into a pocket, open voice recorder, and walk with one headphone looped around my ear. Whenever I see something worth noting, I just tap to record.
No headset? No problem. Just speak into the phone as usual. An iPhone isn’t necessary, either–most phones have a voice record function.
2. Index cards
Here’s a tip I picked up from Anne Lamott–slip a couple of index cards in your pocket. They’re small, thin enough to stop you feel bulky (always a good thing), and perfect for jotting down notes. I carry a small pencil (pinched from Ikea) with mine, though anything will do. (In moments of desperation, I’ve been known to grab restaurant matches and strike a couple to make charcoal. Anything for the idea, right?)
I live near Harvard, and my husband’s a grad student, so I’m always scooting through the campus. Whenever I’m out on a walk, sans phone and index cards (16 week old Baby = 4 hours sleep a night = a forgetful Peta), I head for the law school commons to shoot myself an email. Most universities have public access computers around, as do local libraries.
4. Talk it out
It’s hard to remember lists, and single facts. It’s easier to remember conversations. So, when I’m out with Baby and have no other way to keep track of an idea, I tell him about it. This verbal brainstorming helps me get a better grasp of the idea–and the more fleshed out it becomes, the easier it is to recall when I get home. It’s also the most successful–ideas I talk out make it into story form much sooner.
One final tip–organize your ideas for later. Try labeling notes by type of story, and/or genre. I use a story-only gmail account for mine–it’s my backup of works in progress, ideas, and contact information. Using gmail’s labels, I can find the notes I made for a short story, or the revision ideas I had for a piece of flash fiction with just one click.
How do you keep track of your story ideas? Do you revisit old ideas?