Idea Management

I'm in the business of idea management.

That is, essentially, all writing is. Managing ideas with the use of 26 letters and a handful of grammar points to (hopefully) transport an idea from my head into yours. Easy, right?

Over the years, I've developed strategies to become better at staying organized, productive, efficient; moving ideas through the assembly line of my work flow from initial tick of inspiration to developed draft then polished manuscript. Last year was the first time I took that next step from 'polished manuscript' to 'published book.' I admit, for a while there I was feeling pretty pleased with my systems, brushing off my shoulders and thinking that I finally got this writing thing down to a science.

That is, until I started working on my new project.

I started the New Year at the beginning of a new creative cycle. With one book behind me, I thought that I knew the exact way to get down to business for Book Number 2. I was going to use the strategy that I always used, developing as much material as I could using hand written prompts, and putting them together in a draft that I would tuck away to cool down before I started revising. What I found was that my prompt technique worked too well. Every time I started writing something, I got three more ideas, and from those ideas, I got another handful, and so on until I was drowning in paperwork.

A good portion of the past month was spent scribbling everything down as fast as I could, and then lamenting over how aimless, scattered, and frankly, crazy, I felt. After some trial and error, I managed to find a new system that allows my ideas to flow, and still accumulate into something substantial enough for me to consider a draft. Here are the strategies that I recently learned, and if you have any techniques that work for you, please share them in the comments! 

The Wall


I previously talked about the wall method for plotting a novel at Xenith Literary Magazine, but this second version is my broad strokes technique. I was getting overwhelmed by constantly shuffling through papers of prompts, so I decided to go big. 2' x 2' package paper has been taped to the wall above my desk. Each paper is dedicated to it's own project, and when an idea comes, it goes on the wall. Character notes, outlines, bits of dialogue, diagrams of how short stories relate to each other or how fiction ideas relate to essay topics--it all goes on the wall.




I know, this seems so obvious, but I only just recently found a purpose for folders beyond "I don't want to lose my papers." Each project has it's own dedicated folder, arranged the exact same way so I can make notes and updates on each project as needed without getting distracted.

Left side: Scene list/outline, craft or character notes, green scrap paper at the bottom for any marketing brainstorm notes.

Right side: Top: Prompts to write, drafted material/manuscript, non-fiction pieces for essays (and blog posts!).

I also add a post-it note of what needs to be done next at the front of each folder.


They say that writers get the most ideas before bed, and, sadly, I have found that to be true. Rather than turning on my phone (and running the risk of kicking off a night of technology-loop insomnia) I quickly jot the gist down on a post-it. I inevitably end up with a stack for the next morning, which are either tucked away into the project's folder or slapped onto the wall. I also keep a notepad and pen in the car for red lights, too.

Setting Deadlines


My dad likes to offer his own particular brand of dad-like wisdom: a sort of gruff but poetic no-nonsense nugget of what-you-are-doing-and-how-you-should-be-doing-it-instead. In this vein, he recently mentioned, "Pressure makes diamonds." This last bit of advice has been the final key to my solution for this month's dilemma. I use a daily planner from She's Novel to keep track of my monthly, weekly, and daily schedules. Without accumulating into something to share with a particular audience--even if it's just for yourself--these systems are about as good as the jars used to catch fireflies (which actually sounds like a lot of fun, too).

Were these suggestions helpful? Do you have your own tips for managing sprawling bits of stories? Don't forget to share them in the comments, below!