If you’re a writer, you’re in the business of coming up with ideas. Whether you’re pitching an editor on a new topic, writing persuasive copy or even working on that epic novel, ideas are the basis of your ability to earn a living. That means that you have to have a way to collect and use your ideas — and considering that ideas can pop up anywhere, you have to have a flexible system in place.
Moving Beyond Notebooks and Text Files
I think every writer has a notebook somewhere where we each scribble ideas if we happen to be nearby. There are some ways to improve on that particular setup, especially if your goal is to make it easier to connect ideas to editors.
Making your notes easy to search is the first step. Rather than thumbing through a notebook or scrolling through a huge text file whenever you’re trying to find an idea that you may have had weeks ago, you should be able to type a word or two into a search box and get out the ideas that you’ve put in. At a minimum, this means putting your ideas on to a computer.
Managing More Information
There are a variety of applications out there these days, made specifically to manage notes and other bits of text. I use Evernote, because it’s free, but there are a wide variety of options that have more bells and whistles. One feature that I’ve found particularly useful is the ability to tag the ideas that I’m writing down: I can annotate each idea with a particular publication or editor that might be interested, an overall topic that I can use to connect it to a new market or anything else that can help me transform an idea into a finished article.
I keep my swipe file — headlines, bits of text that I think are particularly well-written and inspirational pieces — all in the same place. As I’m looking for an idea I’m writing about, I can pair it with a headline format that I think will really work for it and turn out something with a better chance of winning over an editor.
Depending on where you usually get your ideas, there may be other features you need. Get your ideas in the car? You probably want a tool that can collect recorded ideas (and turn them into text, ideally) unless you want to scribble notes as you steer. Get your ideas away from the computer? A tool that allows you to photograph or scan handwritten notes and add them in is going to be particularly useful for you.