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If you're like me, you get story ideas anywhere and everywhere. If I'm at a computer, I'll write down the idea in onenote or outlook or scrivener (depending what's open). If I just have my phone, I'll send an email to myself, or use the voice recorder app to spew some thoughts. If neither are handy, I'll write down ideas on the back of business cards or on whatever paper I can find.

As you'd expect, I find myself losing track of these little ideas. I find most of them eventually (I think), but would like to hear some ideas on how others keep track of random story ideas.

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possible duplicate of What are the first things I should do with an idea? –  justkt Nov 22 '10 at 19:23
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I don't think it's a duplicate, how keeping track of the random thoughts and ideas is really it's own topic. –  Fox Cutter Nov 22 '10 at 19:31
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I agree, this isn't really a duplicate. This is a more practical question (i.e. "how can I physically record these ideas") whereas the aforementioned question is more abstract (i.e. "what can I do with ideas to make them into stories"). –  Maulrus Nov 22 '10 at 19:41
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11 Answers 11

up vote 18 down vote accepted

I keep a good old fashion Moleskin notebook with me, one that is hard back so it can survive in my pocket (as well as a pen). It's useful not only for writes notes but for everything else I need to jot down while away from the computer. It also comes with a band to hold it closed, which is useful so I can keep cards in it and the like.

There's also something satisfying about being about to pull the notebook out and open/close it with the snap of the elastic.

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+1 For pen and paper. They are resilient and cheap. Just never forget to note down an idea. It's so easy to forget that you even had an idea.... –  Aaron Digulla Nov 22 '10 at 20:31
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+1 As well. I'm a tech geek that owns 3 PDAs and 2 Phones, an iPad and 3 Laptops, yet I always carry a paper notebook and a small pen with me because you just can't beat the bootup time and fidelity you gain from it. Moleskine is great because of the hard back and the rubber string that keeps it closed –  Michael Stum Nov 22 '10 at 20:52
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NOT a pen - pencil(s) and sharpener - pen-ink tends to run dry when you need it most :) –  slashmais Nov 23 '10 at 8:04
    
Moleskine is an excellent brand of notebooks. I use the Moleskine Sketchbook for my drawings and ideas. (This is because only the Sketchbook can take my thick and inky pen.) Which book and pen do you use? I find that all the pens that I use "leak" and go through to the opposite page when I write on it. –  JFW Nov 24 '10 at 12:55
    
@JFW - I'm just using the black hard cover notebook with lined paper. As for my pen, it's a simple ball point, in fact it's a fairly cheep one so I can pop off the little pocket clip thing. Gets in the way otherwise. –  Fox Cutter Nov 24 '10 at 15:21
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I use OneNote and I think it's the best computer program ever happened. You can track your ideas and thoughts in the most easier way I've seen. As much as I love paper, I should really own oneself with the paper beaten over the person with this beautiful little soft gem.

As a mathematician I organized my notebooks strongly, and I will to publish it, if I suddenly will become a celebrity. But, to tell the truth, this program just forces you to organize, and does this by imperceptible way. Chaos in my head is productive at last.

There are also other electronic notebooks presented, and most imminent for ON is Evernote

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Any advice on organising notebooks in OneNote? I personally use Evernote myself to organise notes, web clippings, ideas, ... and use the tagging system to trawl through the files. I've seen a friend use OneNote and the pages seemed quite disorganised. I like the idea of OneNote, but I haven't seen any good ways of using it as a note-taking program. –  JFW Nov 24 '10 at 12:56
    
@JFW I'd made some screenshots, they'd explain all in seconds, but they'd be in Russian, so they'd not make sense here. I'll try to explain by words. I started organizing it quite recently, and improving day by day. I have a notebook for every large part of my life: i.e Personal, Work, Education, Wisdom (I store tips and hints I've gained here), Books (I store my books there), Projects(programming projects), Readings, Mockups(here common patterns are lying) and Programs(Lightweight (<100mb) soft) –  Daniel Excinsky Nov 24 '10 at 13:10
    
@JFW Notebooks in ON can have sections and group of sections. Sections can have pages, and subpages down to the third level (page + sub + subsub). I have one main section in every notebook, where I do store some unmanaged yet data. Today I also decided to have an essential meta section, that is describing for what this notebook is and isn't. –  Daniel Excinsky Nov 24 '10 at 13:15
    
@JFW There is one decision, that I think made my notebooks quite organized. I established rules and patterns and my head about how certain sections should look. Today I also decided to provide meta page in every section, because I'm starting to forget all this patterns and rules. But I haven't yet thought about how group sections should look. –  Daniel Excinsky Nov 24 '10 at 13:20
    
@JFW Now about section groups. I use them when I feel that I'm running out of hierarchy levels. Section groups are basically just folders in windows file structure, so they can provide you any level of hierarchy you need. Just don't forget about 256 bytes name limit, or you will have problems while copying your notebooks. –  Daniel Excinsky Nov 24 '10 at 13:24
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I simply have a google doc, and I can almost always access it since it's stored a server.

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I always have a notebook with me. When the notebook is full, I go through it page by page, digitizing the ideas that are "keepers" (and transferring those I want to mull some more into my new notebook). Of course, if I happen to be at the computer, I will often just throw things right into my notes file -- I have a branch set aside just for "unsorted" notes which I clean out on occasion the same way I do my notebook.

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When I was in college/grad school I kept a bunch of index cards to write poems or ideas on. I had the problem of having scribbled ideas in the middle of my school notes. Keeping them all in one place worked (and grabbing an index card in the middle of a lecture looks like I'm paying attention).

They have little index cards kept on a ring that could easily fit in a pocket.

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I really like the idea of a small notebook, and I'd recommend that. However, this one might be more convenient, and it's what I do. If you have a phone that you're comfortable with typing on, send yourself a text, email, make a reminder for when you get home, whatever works best for you. In that message, type up whatever details you need to remember. Again: it's not the best option, but it's very convenient if you have a phone (which, as a generalization, you probably do).

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I'm not a fan of carrying a notebook, because when I really need it, I have forgotten to take it with me anyway. Therefore I solve the issue the other way round. I keep a pencil and small pieces of paper on my desk (home and office), in my bedside table, the kitchen, the bathroom and my car.

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I use a Mac/iPhone app called TaskPaper to track most of my ideas. It can sync between the phone and multiple Macs, which I find useful when moving between home and work.

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It sounds as if you're well prepared to take a note at any time. For that, I use the same tools you do: Scrivener, Moleskine, and digital recorder.

So our tools are the same, but I add two bits of process: First, I always transcribe notes from the Moleskine and recorder into my idea file in Scrivener. All of my notes quickly end up in one place.

I've been experimenting with iPhone/iPad apps instead of my Moleskine notebook. Yesterday I was on an airplane and had an idea. I fired up PlainText (which synchronizes across devices and computers via Dropbox). But because I was not connected to a network, PlainText spit up some kind of warning or error, which I dismissed. I was able to create a document to take my note, but by that time I'd forgotten the idea.

So for now I'm likely to forego newer technology in favor of paper.

A second bit of process: In Scrivener, I often tag my ideas. For non-fiction, I tag them with topics. For fiction, I tag them using the CLOSAT scheme (Character, Location, Object, Situation, Action, Theme). Over time, this scheme alerts me to some interesting patterns, e.g. that most of my ideas about about situations, some are about themes, and very few are about characters.

By always transcribing notes to one place, and by tagging my ideas (when the tags are obvious), I give myself the best chance of finding ideas when I need them.

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Since I'm a digital person, I tend to use Evernote. It can capture audio, pictures, video, or text. I can enter something on my phone or iPad, have it sync with the service and it's available on my laptop or desktop almost immediately. Since I use multiple devices this is nice.

Pen/paper is nice, and if you use that, I'd recommend that after you take some notes, you take a picture of the page with your phone as a backup.

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Some people need a water proof notepad for recording ideas in the shower. I needed something for recording ideas in the car.

A digital audio recorder is something I carry around now because I get a lot of ideas in the car while commuting or running errands. The phone had too many buttons to push before being able to record, a dedicated recorder is simpler and is much safer. and I can transfer to the computer via USB.

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