tools for capturing ideas in writing

Tools and tips for capturing ideas in writing.

Have you ever been overwhelmed with writing ideas, and you didn’t know what to do with all of them? Have you ever had a brilliant idea at a bad time, like when you’re driving? How do you capture and keep track of your ideas?

There are many ways to capture and organize your ideas in writing. While it may seem obvious that if you have a good idea, you should write it down so you don’t forget about it, all those ideas can pile up. You may find yourself searching through notes, trying to find an idea you had that you want to use. You might kick yourself for failing to write down the details of an idea that you’ve now forgotten.

Fortunately, there are plenty of tools for capturing ideas in writing. All you have to do is find the tools that work for you and develop a system that you can comfortably use for organizing and tracking your writing ideas.

Tools for Capturing Ideas in Writing

I’ve experimented with most of these tools and found that I gravitate toward a tool depending on the nature of the project. I like to keep fiction ideas in a notebook but I prefer index cards for nonfiction.

You might want to use two or three tools to keep things simple or maybe you work better with a wider range of tools, which allow you to capture different types of ideas. For example, an app like Evernote allows you to create lists, text documents, and grab images from the web whereas index cards allow you to capture ideas that you can later rearrange into a logical order.

You probably already use some of these tools. Consider experimenting with the ones you haven’t used to see if they suit your creative style:

  1. Brainstorming: You can brainstorm on paper or on a computer. Brainstorming is not for capturing random ideas — it’s a session in which you generate as many focused ideas as possible and record them so you can later refine them. Literature and Latte (the makers of the wildly popular writing software, Scrivener) recently produced a brainstorming app called Scapple, which is available for the Mac. I’ve already started using Scapple, and I love it!
  2. Mind mapping: Like brainstorming, mind mapping is done in a session. It’s similar to brainstorming except ideas are captured using a specific visual method in which there’s a central idea and clusters of closely related ideas within the greater topic. Wikipedia has an article on mind mapping, which includes visual examples.
  3. Index cards: Simple and practical for capturing ideas either randomly or during a brainstorming session, index cards are compact and easy to carry around. They also allow you to rearrange ideas and group them in stacks, which is ideal for putting scenes or concepts in chronological or logical order. They’re also great for summarizing scenes and chapters.
  4. Sticky notes: I prefer index cards to sticky notes because I can stack and store them, but sticky notes work well with brainstorming, mind mapping, and capturing random ideas, which you can stick to your desk, wall, or bulletin board for later use. They’re perfect for jotting down notes that you later want to stick into a notebook (without having to transcribe from one tool to another). If you use a Mac, it comes with an app called Stickies, which allows you to create electronic sticky notes for your desktop.
  5. Journal or notebook: For me, nothing beats a trusty notebook. They come in various shapes and sizes, and you can get different notebooks for different projects or use a single notebook just for recording ideas. Many writers feel that the tactile nature of working with a pen and notebook enhances creativity. It also allows for drawing, doodling, and creating charts or lists in an organic fashion.
  6. Evernote: I’ve had Evernote for years but only recently started using it, and I love it! Evernote allows you to create text, audio, and video files, plus you can clip content directly from the web. You install Evernote on your computer and smart devices and here’s where it gets awesome: Evernote automatically syncs to the cloud. So if you audio record an idea on your smart phone, you can access it later from your computer, where it’s easier to move notes to bigger projects in Word or Scrivener. The app is available for Mac or PC and every device imaginable, and it’s free.
  7. Scrivener: In word processing software, Scrivener is quickly becoming the new industry standard for authors. Scrivener is to Microsoft Word what Microsoft Word was to the typewriter — a major improvement. It would take forever to list all the perks and benefits of using Scrivener, but I’ll mention a couple of highlights, including keeping chapters, images, notes, outlines, and research in a single file instead of having to manage various documents. Scrivener also has output to .mobi and .epub file types, which is awesome for self-publishers. Plus, you have nothing to lose since there’s a 30-day free trial. Scrivener is available for Mac and Windows, and they have an iPad app in the works.
  8. Audio recordings and dictation: Several times, I’ve found myself full of great ideas while driving. I used to call myself and leave a voice mail, but now I use an audio recording app called iTalk Recorder. It’s available for the iPhone and iPad, but you can find voice recording apps for any device, and of course, your computer probably has recording capabilities built right in. For example, on my Mac, I just hit the “fn” key twice from within most programs, and it will take dictation.

How Do You Capture and Organize Your Ideas in Writing?

Do you use carefully selected tools to capture your ideas in writing, or do you deal with each idea as it comes? Have you developed a workable system for organizing your writing ideas? Which is your favorite method or tool? Share your thoughts by leaving a comment, and keep writing.

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