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Organizing Your Ideas

As we start a new year, we also often face the big scary thing—a blank page of a new project. If you’re lucky, you already have an idea for the next story, novel or essay in mind. But for many of us, the hard part is coming up with not just any idea, but one that will inspire us to the finish line. Over the next few weeks we will give you some tips and insights to jumpstart your ideas. But let’s start with organizing and acting on your ideas.

Get an Idea Notebook…

Or lots of them. Scatter them everywhere. I have one in my purse, in the car, by my nightstand and where I watch TV. Why? Because ideas are fleeting. They come and go and melt away like snow. I get a lot of ideas. If I don’t write them down somewhere I am guaranteed to lose it. I write them down and what I know about them in as much detail as I can. And I jot them down without judgment. Not all of my notebook ideas will see the light of day, but that’s not their job. Their job is to be a dream/idea catcher of sorts.

Some of my best ideas come in that dream state of sleep. They can show up so fully formed and perfect that I am sure I will remember them and act on them in the morning after that first cup of coffee. But I have learned that if I don’t get up long enough to jot it down in the notebook by the bed, it just won’t be there when I get up and start working.

And don’t forget your smartphone. Most phones have a recorder that can be used to jot down ideas. I use Evernote to organize a lot of projects, but there are lots of apps to help you organize your idea starters. I have my phone, tablet and laptop linked so I can capture the ideas and put them in a file in the app to play back and to also turn into notes. I also type notes in my phone on the fly. I’ve even sent myself emails and text messages. My best tools are always the ones I have with me.

The first week of the year is the perfect time to make the decisions on what tools you will use to capture the ideas. It is so important to have your notebook, or tablet or whatever you choose, ready and with you at all times. You can always change your mind about what tools work, but the important thing is to be prepared, because you never know when the best idea is going to come your way.

Make an Idea Date

I have standing dates on my calendar for the things that are important but get pushed out of the way by paying work, pitching stories, creating a way to track submissions and sales, and just living life. Dealing with my ideas for new work has a date on my calendar every week. On that day, I gather all my idea notebooks, files, and recordings and put my notes in one place, usually a computer file that I date. While I am weeding out the most compelling ones to take to the next level, I never get rid of the others. You just never know. I also review all of my ideas, because as you can imagine, it is a great tool when you feel like you are coming up dry.

Some of the ideas in my new computer file go through a little homework. I research them to see if there is something there. Are there experts to talk to? Is there a compelling story? Do I think I have a place to pitch it? Do I want to pitch it?  While I am doing my online research, I am also saving links to articles and notes about sources, so I can save a little time when and if I do get ready to act.

I can probably pull down an actionable idea or two per idea date. Do I take all day? No. For me a couple of hours of idea work can be very profitable. But I also include my essays and book ideas in my dates.

The important part about using idea starters, especially now, is they will fuel your writing for the rest of 2018 and beyond.

So, let’s get started.

Andrea King Collier is an award-winning journalist and author. She writes for leading print, online and broadcast outlets. She is the author of The Black Woman’s Guide to Black Men’s Health, and Still With Me… A Daughter’s Journey of Love and Loss. She is also an in-demand writing teacher and coach.

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