Have an Idea Container

Ideas are fleeting. Why is that? How is it that we can receive or—zowie!—be hit by what we feel is a fabulous idea but then, later, cannot even remember it, as if it simply floated away?

It’s too much to consider, really. It’s a shame at how much goodness and creativity may be lost because the human did not take hold and record it.

In one of Elizabeth Gilbert’s TEDTalks, “Your Elusive Creative Genius,” she talks about the different notions of what happens to ideas when we don’t grab them. Do they simply dissolve, cease to exist? Is that how it is? Or does the idea move on to someone else when the original, intended receiver was not prepared to give it the attention it deserved?

I prefer to embrace the explanation that the idea continues to exist and seeks out another willing home, another channel. So if I’m not open and prepared to receive a fabulous idea, then that home—that channel—will not be me.

Great ideas, no matter how splendid, don’t hang around if you don’t capture them. So have an idea container ready to hold them.

What is an idea container?

For some writers, an idea container is as simple as a tiny notepad in a pocket or purse. It could be a deck of index cards. I have a friend who twines elaborate doodles around her ideas, artfully written into a leather-bound journal that is always with her.


Those who are tech savvy might prefer a phone or tablet with a note-taking app, such as GoogleKeepEverNote, or Microsoft OneNote. The good folks at Cloudwards have a helpful article on the best note-taking apps where you can learn more. Another friend of mine simply sends text messages to herself with reminders of her ideas.

In a pinch, whatever is close and available may become your idea container . . . which often isn’t a safe or effective tactic. We have all heard stories of geniuses scribbling world-changing ideas on napkins in restaurants. Those napkins can be so easily tossed. The ideas might as well have not been recorded in the first place.

I find it’s good for me to have several different types of idea containers. These are typically composition books, plain-jane spiral notebooks, and notepads of various sizes. I tried index cards because I was intrigued with the concept that I could shuffle them around to piece together my thoughts about scenes for my novel in new and interesting ways. That didn’t work so well for me, but it might for you.

I keep my idea containers in numerous places—at my desk, beside my living room chair, in my car, in my backpack, in my purse—but always within easy reach.

No matter where you are, and especially when you are doing an activity that often fosters ideas (such as walking), grab those moments—however random they may seem. Try out a few assorted methods of capturing your ideas to see what works for you in different situations.

Whatever you use as your idea container, for goodness sake, use something.


Have an Idea Container — 4 Comments

  1. I have several “usual” places to note… Names, past personal interesting situations, words, special phrases, and terrific ideas. The all, however; end up in a treasured file in my desk top. The Idea of sending a text to me is new to me and I will use it… old man ya know… got to get modern.

  2. Oh man… I have “idea containers” all over the place. Notebooks, pocket size pads, digital notes (multiple platforms), and sticky notes in folders. I’m not sure how it works, but it does (mostly). I refer back often and find brilliant ideas that I didn’t know how they were useful at the time I wrote them, but were either just what I needed or a jumping off point for what I needed.

    Great tool for anyone (not just authors). 😉

  3. I got a “words–phrases–and ideas” folder in my computer and I carry a pocket note pad to record stuff I would forget if I didn’t write them down. They find their way to my folder soon enough. I “read” the folder an occasion. It always brings a smile

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