writing ideas

Work while you play: gather writing ideas while procrastinating

I love the web. In fact, I think it’s the single greatest invention of the twentieth century. It allows people to meet, connect, conduct business, and gather information quickly and easily, all from the comfort of…well, anywhere. It’s also an entertainment mecca. All that art! Music! Films! Literature! And games.

The web is an enormous resource center, playground, and time suck.

We’ve all been there: You hop on the web to look up a quick fact, check your e-mail, or post an update to one of your (many) social media profiles. But what was supposed to be a two-minute action item stretches into a two-hour adventure as you click through an endless stretch of videos, articles, and cat memes.

Distractions Abound Online

Distractions affect everybody, but writers are especially susceptible. As we sit crafting our prose, sometimes the muse escapes us and we’re tempted to venture away from our writing to find her again. The strongest among us will be able to resist the alluring pull of the Internet’s dazzling distractions. But most of us, in moments of great weakness and in times of desperate procrastination, will succumb to the clicking, often forgetting about the muse completely.




Now, I’m not going to encourage anyone to dawdle. But a little procrastination can be helpful. In fact, I’ve come up with lots of great ideas for blog posts while watching interviews on YouTube. I’ve concocted story ideas from images I perused on iStockPhoto. Tweets on Twitter have inspired poems. There is no limit to the writing ideas that can be found while randomly surfing around the Internet.

Mostly, I’m pretty good about restraining from distractions, but when I do succumb, I put procrastination to work for me!

I Made a Stash File

As I navigate around the Internet while avoiding inevitable tasks, I come across fascinating stuff — stuff I’d like to use — but later (because, you know, right now I’m working on something, sort of). In the past, I used my web browser to bookmark interesting sites so I could revisit them later. Eventually I switched to social bookmarking.

Things started getting spread out. If I wanted to go back to an illustration of an alien I saw three months ago or a mesmerizing poem I found a few weeks back, I would have to scroll through all my browser bookmarks, and then log in to three or four different accounts looking for the item of interest. The system wasn’t working for me.

Then I made a stash file.

Sometimes the Simplest Solutions Are the Best

It started with a text file. I found a particular site that I wanted to use as inspiration for a poem, but I didn’t want to lose the URL or forget where I’d stored it. So, I opened my text editor. I copied and pasted the URL along with a quick note to myself and saved the file to my desktop. Later, when I was ready, I knew exactly where to find it.

I started using that same file for other writing ideas that I found online. Then, I decided to expand my stash file. I created a folder on my desktop and moved the text file into it. Now I could save images to the folder. But for some of the images, I wanted to make notes. So I added a Word document to the folder (Word lets you copy and paste images directly to the document).

Now my stash file is bustling with writing ideas. I still use my other bookmarking systems, but for ideas and inspiration, I strictly use my stash file, and I love it. Sure, paper notebooks feel like home, but when you’re collecting ideas in the digital realm, you need a digital way to store them. I mean, who wants to hand-write URLs?

Tips for Stashing Your Collection of Ideas and Inspiration

You’ll need the following:

  • A desktop folder containing a text file and an MS Word file
  • The ability to copy and paste
  • Some time to waste

Over time, I’ve found a few ways to make this little system quite effective. For example, once I use an idea, I can delete it. This keeps the files short and easy to peruse. I’ve also thought about creating a third document that I can label “used ideas.” Then, I can just move stuff to that document and it will be there in case I need to refer back to it later.

My favorite feature in this system is that I can easily search through the material to quickly find what I’m looking for. It doesn’t matter if my documents grow to 10 pages or 100 pages because I use the Find feature. That’s when you hit command-F (control-F for Windows users) and then enter a word or phrase to search for. Within seconds I can find an item that’s buried in a document. Easy as pie.

How Do You Harvest and Store Writing Ideas?

I’m always looking for efficient ways to keep track of all the great writing ideas I come across. How do you do it?

Adventures in Writing The Complete Collection

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