First Things First. What Was the First Thing Again?
August 21, 2012 7:22 AM   Subscribe

If I wrote down all the witty/funny/odd/insightful things that cross my mind all day long, I'd have tons of ideas for creative projects. The problem: I'm missing the part of my brain that says "Hey, write that down!"

Typical right-brained person lacking organizational and follow-through skills here, with untold legions of unrealized creative endeavors to show for it. I've realized that my biggest problem might be that although I make plenty of observations, in my thoughts and conversations, worth hanging on to for later use in creative projects (anything from an amusing pun to a story idea to a particular aesthetic experience), I don't think of writing anything down until it's too late.

I always keep a pen and paper handy for writing things down, but as I said, it's the brain-to-hand transfer that's lacking. So I'm looking for practical advice on training myself to turn idea-noting into a habit (a reflex, even): "Heh, that's a clever thought. WRITE THAT DOWN!"

I'm open to any technique that'll get the job done; cheap Pavlovian mind-tricks, meditative exercises that allow me to be more attentive to my thoughts and actions, whatever. My only requirement is that I want to stick with pen and paper; no electronic note-taking system (it's just easier and more enjoyable for me to write on paper).
posted by Rykey to Grab Bag (13 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
You could try doing this backward, since what you're really trying to do is start a new habit.

Maybe every 30 minutes or an hour, on the dot, write something down that you're thinking of. You'll get the physical action down that way and start building a habit. If you can't handle remembering it, you can even set an alarm on your watch or phone.

Once you get the hang of that, maybe when you have an idea you'll remember: I write stuff down! And don't delay -- do it RIGHT THEN, when you think of it. Otherwise, you'll think, Oh, I should write that down, and it'll be gone.

Sound feasible? I think thinking of it as a habit you don't have yet will help. No one's really born with a part of their brain that makes them write things down; it's a skill you have to learn.
posted by fiercecupcake at 7:28 AM on August 21, 2012 [5 favorites]

I read an interview with Stephen King and he basically said what you're thinking of doing will stifle your creativity, since most of the ideas a creative person has are crap. So you write these down all day, basking in your brilliance, then you get to the weekend, pull out the file folder of awesomeness and you'll find you don't think the ideas are as cool as you did at the time.

His method was the truly exciting ideas stick up there and bang around with other great ideas until you have to actually do the project.

I'm not discouraging you from doing this. I used to carry a micro cassette recorder for this very purpose, but I found it discouraging.

Lastly, in my experience, the ideas are the easy part. It's the execution that is difficult. Develop the habit of keeping your ass in a chair and you'll find that the ideas will be there. I have the most creative ideas when I am focused on being creative. I get short story ideas while making masks, I get mask ideas while writing poetry, I get all kinds of ideas when I am supposed to be paying attention to something boring.

Keep the lists if you like. I did this for a while. Sometimes it was fun to grab two ideas out of the box and see if they were combinable. Siri takes great notes and screws up enough to make it fun (so does Mountain Lion). A digital recorder would work. I used to write on my hands. But at the end of the day I think I just got better at remember the things I think will be cool to do and not dwelling on the ones that I forget.
posted by cjorgensen at 8:06 AM on August 21, 2012 [6 favorites]

I'm the same. My solution is Dial2Do.

Pay them a $2.49/ month and they give you a number to call. Dial, and speak for up to like 20 secs. They transcribe quickly and email you the text plus the mp3 file. Use an email filter to create a separate, searchable mail folder for these. Or pay Dial 2Do $5.99/month and they'll send the stuff to Evernote for you.

I used to use a voice recorder, but it looked really nerdy. With this, you're just talkin on the phone.

Another solution....fall in love with Field Notes notebooks and small Space Pen. As many do, fetishize them so they become part of your life so you'll actually use them. I know you resist writing stuff down, but the medium makes a diff.
posted by Quisp Lover at 8:55 AM on August 21, 2012

Correction... For some dumbe reason Dial2Do sends only audio, not transcription, to Evernote. Probably better to go with their cheaper service and find a way to transfer stuff from mail folder into Evernote.
posted by Quisp Lover at 8:58 AM on August 21, 2012

Instead of writing a clever idea down, repeat it to yourself a couple of times to get it to better stick in your memory. Maybe sing a little song or visualize something to help anchor it. Your success rate might vary: I lose lists but have a decent memory, so this works for me. Not every idea sticks around, but enough do.

If there's a specific time or circumstance that tends to generate creative ideas (say, you have awesome ideas when you go for a walk), see if you can schedule idea-generating time and creative time back to back, so you can get started on your ideas right away.
posted by Metroid Baby at 9:08 AM on August 21, 2012

Get a notebook and pen you really like. Some people swear by Moleskines, my current notebook is a green handmade one I got on etsy, whatever notebook matches your style and gives you a little thrill when you hold it and imagine it filled with your thoughts. You'll write in it because it's new and pretty and you want an excuse to handle it, and then maybe it will become a habit.
posted by milk white peacock at 9:24 AM on August 21, 2012

I've left myself voicemails. I don't know what your voicemail checking procedure is, but I tend to have pen and paper handy when I check my voicemails.
posted by WeekendJen at 10:11 AM on August 21, 2012

I should add that i call my google voice # from my cell phone
posted by WeekendJen at 11:44 AM on August 21, 2012

INDEX CARDS. I was planning to write this question last week, but then I found index cards and now I am writing everything down always. (It's lasted a whole week! This is a first.)

Something about the size of the card makes it okay to write down even the least formed thoughts. And if you do one thought per card, then you can see how many you're generating and it makes you feel productive (and on the flip-side, can help you check yourself if you're getting logorrheic.)

Eventually, I plan to go through them and sort them into projects, like: this would be a good topic for my blog, and this would make a great art installation, and this would be a great idea for self-promotion, etc.
posted by TG_Plackenfatz at 12:41 PM on August 21, 2012

As a writer and editor, I really think cjorgensen's answer is the best one here. What you need to do is schedule 30 minutes or so EVERY DAY (or M-F. if you like, but it needs to be a routine) and just free-write or brainstorm. You can't wait for inspiration to strike you. You have to train inspiration to come to you when you are ready. Honestly.

Some of what you come up with will be crap. But the good stuff will float to the surface.
posted by Brittanie at 2:29 PM on August 21, 2012

Response by poster: Good suggestions so far. Thanks!

A couple of points:

1) I am aware of the pitfalls of waiting for inspiration to strike, and do schedule out time for brainstorming and writing. I'm really just looking for practical ways to remember to write down ideas, though, as problematic as that may be.

2) Along the same lines (as I mention at the tail-end of my post), I'm really, truly looking for ways to remember to write down ideas on paper-- no intermediary gadgets or voicemail services.
posted by Rykey at 3:18 PM on August 21, 2012

I that case, I think maybe keeping a teeny tiny notebook and a teeny tiny pen in your pocket at all times. Having it there will help you remember to write SOME things down, and the more you write SOME things down the more you'll get into the habit of writing all things down.
posted by Brittanie at 3:36 PM on August 21, 2012 [1 favorite]

Keep a small pen in the same pocket (or purse or handbag, however you carry things) and a small notepad also in your pocket at all times. Try and keep them in the same place relative to your body so that you can make the same movement to get them out. Set yourself a time-location combination when you write whatever was on your mind (when you go to your locker after work, for example, or when you've just finished your commute before you leave the car).

If you have someone that you always say "You know what would be really useful?" to, get them to tell you to write it down first... then they'll listen to you.

Remind yourself, out loud, to write your ideas down. Literally say "I must write that down!" and do it.

And of course, reward yourself in some way for writing in the notebook. Or alternatively try to write in the notebook before doing something you take pleasure in anyway.
posted by Wrinkled Stumpskin at 1:21 PM on August 22, 2012

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