Every writer has had more than one moment where a brilliant idea pops into our mind. Sadly, if we don't capture those ideas quickly they may be forgotten in the busy rush of life. Trevor Carss shares 11 free (or inexpensive) ways to make sure your genius story ideas never go astray again.
When crafting your next bestselling book, capturing creative ideas on the fly is often the greatest author challenge. The last thing you want is a missed opportunity at creating something special.
What if you are in the swimming pool and a thought floats by? Out for a run and forgot what you were thinking when you arrived home? For writing consistency, authors must remember and capture those fleeting moments.
When you have that next idea in mind, here are eleven ways to capture it quickly, before your thoughts move on to something else:
1. Google Keep
No matter what electronic device you have, Google Keep can capture anything for you. From text and drawings to audio and checklists, organizing your ideas is quite intuitive with this app. Google Keep is available for all major computing platforms.
Evernote is a more robust note-keeping app in this list, with additional collaboration tools to make working in teams easier. For authors, this can be helpful when collaborating with editors, agents, and publishers.
There are free and paid options to choose from, depending on your needs. If you are not in the Google ecosystem, this is the best option available.
[Note from Joanna: I use Things app on Mac which syncs between my phone and laptop. It's my external brain!]
3. Google Docs
If you have several long-form ideas to write out, including full novels, Google Docs is the go-to cloud word-processor without a price tag attached to it. It used to be that Microsoft Word would be the platform of choice for aspiring authors. Not anymore. Every author should be considering this for their writing needs.
In terms of capturing ideas on the fly, this word processor is more sensible if you intend to type out several paragraphs of content. Autosave is an author’s best friend, and Google Docs does it brilliantly.
[Note from Joanna: I've co-written a number of books with Google Docs. It's great for collaboration as well as idea gathering.]
4. Google Sheets
If you like spreadsheets, having ideas organized in columns might be your preference. You can capture thousands of ideas into spreadsheets, and it’s great for developing a content calendar of your upcoming writing ideas for publication. Now Google Sheets has checkbox options to ensure you’re tackling tasks.
5. Google Slides
Storyboarding is an important way to map out every page. For this, Google Slides is an often overlooked but powerful way to plan out book ideas.
Crafting outlines, chapter-by-chapter, can be facilitated with this app. This program is like Microsoft PowerPoint and is typically used for presentation creation.
6. Apple Notes
For a simple option, Apple users go with the native Notes app on their iPhones, MacBooks or iPads. For ease of use, this is a great option to get started with. Especially when time is of the essence, you might want an app that just works. This is the one. The major downside to Apple Notes is it does not play nice with any other device but Apple’s.
7. Moleskine Notebook
The traditional notebook still has its place for those who prefer paper notes. With today’s smartphone technologies, Moleskine has smart notebooks that can be scanned digitally for searchable notes. Or, if you’re just looking for paper capture, any notebook will do. Go with unlined paper if you like to sketch out ideas as drawings.
[Note from Joanna: I used Moleskines for 15+ years but have switched to Leuchtturm1917 as the paper quality is great for fountain pen ink and the pages are slightly wider.]
8. Post-it Notes
For brainstorming sessions, Post-it Notes are a staple item. Having a stack of these by your bedside table doesn’t hurt either. Some of the best ideas jump out at you while you’re lying in bed.
A unique idea capture method is Twitter. Known for its social media prowess, you can tweet an idea in 240 characters or less with Twitter. Keep in mind these ideas will be public, but that might work to your advantage if you are into social media for your marketing efforts. You can be the innovative author who tweets your ideas to the world. You are building a following while capturing your creativity!
When you’re just looking to get the creative idea written down, sending a text message to yourself might be the best electronic option.
11. Browser Bookmarks
While reading informative blogs, some of the articles you come across might spark an idea or two for you. In case you would like to refer back to the article in future, your Internet browser can bookmark the page for later.
To avoid app overload in your creative process, the suggestion is to use a maximum of 2-3 note-taking apps. My personal process involves a combination of Google Keep for notes on the fly, Google Sheets for content calendars, Google Slides for outlines and Google Docs for long-form content writing. Google Keep is the first place where my ideas go to grow.
By capturing your ideas in one main area, you will be better equipped to organize them for later. Avoid the dusty digital folder. This is the proverbial unused filing cabinet where ideas go to die.
Capture your ideas where you will see and act on them, rather than burying them away.
What are your favorite tools for capturing your creative ideas? Do you use any of the ones mentioned here? Please leave your thoughts below and join the conversation.
Trevor Carss is the author and illustrator of more than 50 children’s books and adult short stories.
Follow his latest thoughts at TrevorCarss.com.
Rachel Leigh Smith says
I use Evernote as my story bible for every series. Each book has a note called Scenes where I jot down scene ideas and I can slap snippets of dialogue in there. It comes in very handy in the middle of the night.
My favorite fountain pen notebook is either an Apica A5 or a Rhodia Webnotebook. Leuchtterm doesn’t work with some of my wetter inks, but Apica has handled everything I’ve thrown at it so far. And of course nothing bleeds through Rhodia or Clairefontaine without a ton of effort involved.
I do my first drafts by hand in A5 notebooks, very much like Neil Gaiman does. It’s helped make me a healthier writer since my day job is 100% keyboard work, and allows me to get a ton of use out of my fountain pens. I’m also a linear writer, so writing in a notebook works very well for me.
I love Google Keep and recently saw a post from EA Deverell where she put her plot points in Keep and when you write in GDocs they will display down the side of the page. A perfect and integrated way to keep you on track. And if you use the check box function you can tick them off as you go!
I agree Docs is excellent for collaborations … although I mostly just seem to be exchanging news in the chat box 🙂
Priscilla Bettis says
Moleskin notebooks rock, but I also like the Write Notepads brand of notebooks. They’re both great for capturing creative brain flies before they buzz away.
Haha! ‘Brain flies’! Love it! Yes, they do tend to fly away rather quickly don’t they Priscilla?
After carrying larger notebooks (@Rachel Leigh Smith – I do love my Rhodia and a good fountain pen) I’ve become a convert to Field Notes (fieldnotesbrand.com) as they’re sturdy but not precious, and perfect to tuck in a pocket.
Thanks Joanna and Trevor — these “little practical things” posts are great. Cheers!
Julie Cordiner says
My golden tip for storing web pages no matter which device you have to hand is http://www.getpocket.com which has a web extension to put at the top of your browser. i have it on my laptop, phone and iPad and I can access everything at any time.
It allows you to create tags for different topics, which is a real boon when it comes to separating out things like creative writing, marketing, publishing and all your different research subjects. It’s completely free too!
Phillip Stephens says
The joy of Apple Notes is that they’re accessible from my Safari browser, and allow me to organize on the fly (unlike bookmarks). So I can create a new note for a new category of links, rather than having to find a bookmark folder I’ve already created. A note can contain links, images and pdfs, and I can access from my phone, pad or laptop.
I ignored notes for a long time thinking it a relatively simple tool, but the more I use it, the more flexible I discover it is.
Do I need to install that Google Keep from Google Play Store or App Store? I use Evernote but if that Google Keep comes up as default app on my Android phone, I would love to switch
Trevor Carss says
Hi Kevin, Google Keep is available for iOS and Android, as well as a Chrome web app in your desktop. You can set it as a default app, just like Evernote.
Dennis Mitton says
I do something similar on the cheap. I’ve used the. evernote subscription service but something about it just wasn’t for me Maybe I’m the only writer who doesn’t sync with it? Now I use Notion which I love. It’s a similar tool and can be used in just about any way. It’s less expensive , too.
I love the Moleskein notebooks too but they’re so precious. So I buy a three pack of pocket sized Target knockoffs for two bucks.
Indika De Fonseka says
Great to meet you Trevor and well done with this list!
I saw a few of my favourites, like browser bookmarks; Google Docs and Sheets; self SMS; and the notebook.
I learned a few new ones too (Google Keep and Google Slide).
Am I weird or does anyone else here use ‘self email’? It’s one of my all time favourites!
My favourite option has to be the humble notebook because of its simplicity, flexibility and also because I try to limit screen time.
I actually prefer a ring binder containing blank A4 sheets to regular notebooks, because they afford so much space and flexibility! I’m constantly swapping out pages and moving things around.
Ring binders are big and heavy but are still a practical option for me because I work from home, much of the time. But when I travel, a smaller, lighter notebook works best.
Look at me! Getting all worked up and enthusiastic about stationery!! All credit to you Trevor!
Take care and warm regards from sunny London.
Bruno Araujo says
I’m using good old MS Word as it has a lot of useful in-build tools. You can export your documents to cloud as well. I’m writing to myself at WhatsApp when I have a spontaneous idea instead of SMS.