Wrangling the elusive idea

Yesterday I talked about those ideas that float into the ether before we have a chance to nail them down. It can be really frustrating trying to conjure the great “aha” that slips away.

My friend, Sally MacKenzie commented on Facebook that ideas might be like fish–the biggest ones always get away. I do think that many of our escaped ideas are just as fictional as those storied fish. Blown up out of proportion in fuzzy, frustrated memory.

Sally brought up another good point. Paper and pencil can prevent the ideas from straying in the first place. I have to agree that prevention may be the best solution for securing those brilliant flashes.

I always try to carry a pen and notebook with me. Someone leafing through my little Moleskin notebook might believe they’ve stumbled upon a truly confused mind. Highlights include my gym locker combination, various phone numbers, grocery lists, plot ideas, important bits of character backstory and possible names for my heroine’s mother.

I seldom refer back to the notebook. Something about writing a thing down makes it stick.

Of course, my notebook doesn’t help much when I get my best insights. These come either in the middle of the night or in the shower. I used to go to sleep with a paper and pen next to me. I’ve even had a couple of pens with built-in lights. I’ve yet to capture a first-rate thought with these midnight scribbles. When I look at my notes in the morning I find them lacking something. Often it is sense. In other cases, the idea is comprehensible, but pedestrian.

Showers are simply not compatible with paper.. I’ve thought of installing a recording system, so that I can dictate that snappy dialogue or lovely narrative that comes to me as I’m lathering up, but an in-shower recorder might also record my husband’s singing and that could lead to disaster.

Also–a bit of advice–don’t try to capture a note whilst driving. This can be dangerous.

I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the modern technology at our disposal for capturing and preserving the random thought. PDAs, tablets (such as the iPad and the various Android devices poised to compete with the iPad) and netbooks are light weight and easy to carry with you. These can save your words in memory or connect to the internet and store your thoughts “in the cloud.”  In addition, most cell phones are small computers with the ability to capture at least a small amount of text.

The first App I sought for my Droid 2 phone was something for taking notes. I came up with Evernote. I haven’t decided yet whether I like the App enough to recommend it. It’s wonderful for research (capturing Web pages, links or small bits of text with a link). For my own ideas, I keep reaching for that little notebook in my purse or pocket.

So–what do you use to keep track of your ideas before they vanish?

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