This past Saturday I had to make a short run in my car and was listening to one of those weekend countdown shows. I was only half paying attention at first, since I was keeping an eye on traffic. They were interviewing a musician—Jake Owen, I think, but don’t quote me on that—and he was talking about how he keeps his song ideas. He has a notebook beside his bed, but he said he also uses voice memo on his phone a lot. He went on to relate how he was in Home Depot recently and got a song idea and was walking around in the store singing into his phone, trying to be quiet about it so they wouldn’t think he was crazy.
I guess I just never thought of songwriters storing their ideas the same way we did. I’m sure every writer out there is aware of the notebook-by-the-bed idea, even if they don’t use it. I know I do. I have an old battered spiral-bound notebook that has all kinds of scribblings in it. I tend to get a lot of ideas when I’m lying there trying to go to sleep and letting random thoughts drift by. One thing leads to another and bam, there’s an idea.
It’s usually at this point that I groan, because I run into the same thing Jake Owen talked about: if you get an idea, get up and write it down. He said he’s had lots of ideas and told himself he’d remember them, only to have no clue what it was the next morning. The flipside of that is he’s written stuff down only to look at it in the morning and wonder what he was thinking. I’ve had both of those experiences, though more of the former than the latter. I think the nonsensical ones are the ones that come to you in the middle of the night, and I’ve never had the motivation to write any of those down. I’ve probably missed some good ideas because of that, but my problem with insomnia means I try my best to get back to sleep when I wake in the middle of the night.
I also carry a small notebook in the cargo pocket of my pants. It’s used for lots of things: lists of books I want to read, website addresses, things I need to look up online, you name it. But there are also some story ideas in there.
Every book I write also has an accompanying idea file, and that’s what I name it. For instance, I’m working currently on a book I’m calling A Temporary Thing, so I also have a file called A Temporary Thing Notes. Anything and everything relating to the book goes into this file, and I often have both documents open on my desktop when I’m writing. I’ll transfer ideas from my notebooks into this file so I have them all handy, and even if I’m not getting anything out of the document, I occasionally scan it anyway to see if I’ve forgotten something I really wanted to do. Sometimes it works out better than I originally planned. A lot of those ideas never get used, though. They’re like the ideas that get jotted down during a brainstorming session, except my sessions tend to last a lot longer.
So how do you store your ideas? Do you have the notebook by the bedside? Do you carry one with you? Or do you do like Jake Owen and use the voice memo on your phone (an idea I’d never thought of but might start using)?
I’d be interested to hear what you have to say.