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.

Gina Edwards is a retreat leader, a certified creativity coach, and a book editor. She is also a writer, so she’s intimately familiar with the challenges and elation that come with being one.

She supports all writers—published and aspiring—who want to write as an act of courageous and necessary self-expression.

Walking the writer’s path hand-in-hand with her clients and students, she helps them establish a writing practice and define a creative life on their own terms.


Share This