When ideas nag

On the flipside of the brilliance flashes that float away before we can tie them down are ideas that won’t let go. They weigh on your mind like a muddy bog.. You forget to rinse the conditioner out of your hair in the shower. Can’t get your work done on the day job. Like a mosquito circling your head, these ideas steal your attention and focus.

If you’re a creative writer, you’ve probably dealt with one of these relentless buzzing distractions. They can make finishing any project impossible–especially when they swarm.

Many years ago I was participating in a retreat that involved serious, silent meditation. We would come together as a group for a while, then go off in separate directions for a time of solo prayer and meditation.

One of the lessons that has stuck with me over the years was the most surprising. The pastor told us we would be distracted with mundane things we need to do. Get a haircut. Buy milk. Oil that squeaking door. His advice was not to try to force the random thoughts away. Instead, he suggested we have a paper and pen at hand and write these stray concerns down. By safely preserving the task on paper we would get rid of the distraction.

It worked.

I use this same technique to fool the nagging idea. Have a thought for a heroine in another book? Write it down! See a news story that gives you a plot idea? Store that idea on paper or digitally.

I used to keep a file with paper notes in it. Titles, general plot ideas, even whole scenes. But retrieving those ideas can be difficult. I prefer to keep track of the ideas digitally in a program where I can do a word search. If you’re a Windows user, you may have OneNote. This is a virtual notebook that can be divided into tabs by subject. It’s a good place to store ideas that come to you, or research, interesting news articles and other things you stumble upon on the Internet.

I’ve been using OneNote for years and it is a good program. Recently, I’ve started using EverNote on my Android phone and computer. I’m thinking EverNote will be my note-taking program of the future because it works on so many platforms. I especially like the feature that allows you to save a photo with some notes. For example, when shopping for a camera recently I took a photo of the boxes and made note of the prices in the store. Then I was able to go home, get the model number off the picture and do some research before deciding which one to purchase.

Once I’ve created a note with an idea for a book or an article, I can quickly get back to that note and add to it when a related nagging idea starts buzzing around.

What do you use to fend off those distracting, nagging ideas?

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