How to Create and Use a Writing Ideas File

Photo by Stoica Ionela on Unsplash

While there’s no limit to the ideas you and I can write about, there are moments in life when I feel like I haven’t got an idea in my head. This morning’s like that. I don’t know why, but my brain feels fuzzy and highly judgmental, quickly rejecting ideas as they pop up. Fortunately I learned years ago I can benefit from an idea file or several on days like this. In fact this article came from a file of ideas I keep for writing here on Medium.

I’ve got a little list *

For a long time my idea file was just that, a Word document with a long list of ideas. Long because I’ve formed the habit of capturing most of my ideas in this fashion.

Gradually I made modifications. First, when I’d completed an article I used Word’s strikeout function to draw a line through it. That lets me know I’ve written about it. It also let’s me see what the idea was because I know from experience I can get more than one article or post per idea. It wasn’t long before I put the date of publication next to that, all in a table that like like this:

If you look carefully you’ll see I don’t proof this list much, nor do I need to. And sometimes I don’t include all the information. My goal isn’t a perfect list, but a way to capture ideas so when I can’t think of what to write I have a resource that will spark my imagination.

Medium’s drafts as a list

Here on Medium I sometimes start a story and for one reason or other don’t finish it. That’s fine. It automatically gets filed in stories under drafts. Each morning when I sit down to write here I check out my story drafts, unless it’s one of those lovely days when I know what I want to write about.

That draft list has become so handy that I’ll sometimes just start a new story with perhaps a title, knowing I can get back to it any time. It probably won’t happen today, but if I have an idea or two while I’m writing for Medium it’s simple just to open New story and begin something. (I’ll be darned, I just had an idea — something about what to do when you think you don’t have many ideas… hint, quit judging ideas and yourself — maybe I’ll write that tomorrow. If I don’t, it’s there in drafts for whenever I want it.)

3 x 5 cards and smartphone notes

I usually carry three or four 3 x 5 cards tucked into my purse. Mostly I use these as a way to capture ideas when I’m out and about. I’ve also learned to use the Notes app on my smartphone to capture ideas — sometimes fairly lengthy ones.

I like taking the cards out and getting them on one idea list or another. With the Notes list I tend to just open the file while at my computer and paging through it until I find an idea or partial idea that strikes my fancy.

As you might guess I don’t worry about spelling errors or sentence structure in my idea files. All I want is something readable that I can use to spark an article or post, or even a whole book chapter.

Our minds are amazing. They don’t need much of a hint to start providing information for writing. It’s one of my joys to go from a grumpy “I don’t know what to write” mode to watching a post like this seem to flow out of my fingers into a reasonably coherent and maybe helpful article.

Write well and often,

*a polite nod to Gilbert and Sullivan’s The Mikado

Writer, life and writing coach, book ghostwriter, Grandmother, Buddhist. Liberal who listens to the other side, political

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