Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Organizing Ideas—The Door

We’ve already talked about generating and capturing ideas. Now I’d like to chat a bit about organizing those ideas.

For a long time—like all the way back into my teen years—I kept my story ideas in loose-leaf notebooks. I put dividers in them and put any and all information into the appropriate section. I still have all those notebooks, and every once in a while I go digging through them for nuggets of inspiration. This isn’t a bad method of organization. It keeps things together in one spot, and you can keep adding bits and pieces to the individual sections until you get the urge to break the idea out and write it. (When you get enough collected that an idea needs its own notebook, it might be time to seriously consider writing an actual book.)

Karen Wiesner, in her book First Draft in 30 Days icon, outlines a method similar to this. She uses a file cabinet and folders instead of loose-leaf notebooks. I’ve used an expandable file folder as well, to keep track of quickie ideas or articles I find online that I print and toss in the file. (Evernote is great for this too, and I’m using it more and more instead of printing things out.)

One problem I had with this method, though, was that it doesn’t keep the story ideas right in front of my face. I’ll have a perfectly viable idea, or a sequel to something I’ve already written, worked out in the notebook, and I’ll forget all about it to go chase after some other crazy notion. (Squirrel! No, vampire squirrel!) I ended up writing lists, to-do’s, “what I’m going to write this year,” etc. But even that doesn’t seem to keep my crazy brain on point.

Then one day I was sitting in my office staring into space. It’s a relatively new office in an addition to my house that the previous owner used as a walk-in closet. (She had a lot of clothes.) Anyway. I was staring at the door and had a sudden urge to write all my WIPs, gestating ideas, bits of thoughts and wayward titles on sticky notes and stick them all over the door.

Why? my brain asked. What possible use could that be? So I didn’t do it right away.

Later that day when I was on IM with my best friend, I told her about this insane urge.

“Do it,” she said.

Thus enabled, I whipped out a pile of sticky notes and covered the entire freaking door. There’s a method to the madness—some color coding and a flow that takes ideas from germination to partial manuscript to full manuscript being actively submitted to published work. When a piece has been published, on the day it comes out I take the sticky note off the door, tear it into pieces and throw it away. (Some people might prefer to take them off the door and put them into a commemorative notebook or something, but I get a wacky tactile satisfaction out of ripping up sticky notes. 3 x 5 cards too. I’m weird. Deal with it.)

It’s fun to track the ideas around the door, watching them move from the middle of the door (idea) to the top left corner (complete) to the top right corner (accepted) and then come off the door. I try to keep that top row full—that’s stuff that’s contracted and will soon be seeing the light of day (it's much fuller now than it was when I took this picture). I also keep possible sequels grouped by publisher, or shuffle notes around as I start thinking about where to market them.

I also stick new notes on the door whenever an idea pops into my head, or when my best friend comes up with something. She’s great for generating plot ideas. We had a conversation one night that resulted in a yellow note with “Headbump Hieroglyphics” on it being slapped onto the door. Yeah, I know what it means. Other times she’ll say something like, “Evgeni Malkin, Persian Sheikh. Put it on the door.” I’ll put it on the door and let it work itself out later.
Evgeni Malkin, Persian Sheikh

This method may or may not work for you. Maybe you don’t have a convenient door. But for me, walking past all those sticky notes on a daily basis gets me fired up. I want to write them all, clear that door right off. Now if I could just stop adding so many new ones…