Yesterday, I shared with you how I keep my ideas organized. The simple three-pocket-notebook system allows me to record any random ideas I have, and since I use one of the notebooks as a daily to-do list, it’s always within arm’s reach for when an idea presents itself. While this system works well for me, it might not be the best for everyone, and so today I want to present you with a step-by-step process to figure out your best method.
Step 1: Make a List.
List everything that you’ll need space to record, such as:
- Story ideas
- World concepts
- Character ideas
- Gadget designs
- Great lines to include
- General observations about things
- Chapter titles
- Anything else!
Step 2: Give It Space.
Determine how much space you require or would like to have for each of the items from step one. If you want to have space to make notes or additional details, make sure that’s included. Determine if your content requires:
- Just a single line
- Full-spread (2 pages)
- Maybe the amount of space needed varies (that’s okay!)
Step 3: Keep It Organized.
This is one of the most important steps as it helps set you up for accessing the information when you need it. No matter what the idea is or how you recorded it, you must be able to retrieve it when needed. Let’s figure out the best method of organization for you.
- Do you want to keep all of the different kinds of content separate from each other (such as a resource just for story ideas then another for character ideas or chapter titles?) Multiple notebooks or pieces of paper may be good options.
- Will one resource work so long as you can easily find things, such as with a table of contents? A table of contents is good when you have content of varying length or subject matter.
- Do you want to be able to reorganize the information as needed? Individual pieces of paper might work here.
- Do you want the information to be sortable and or searchable? You’ll want to look into filing or digitizing options.
- Digital and accessible in multiple places? See information on digital resources below.
Step 4: Get It Recorded.
Along with your organization method, another thing to keep in mind is size/bulk of what you’ll be using to record everything. If you have a purse or bag, then using multiple notebooks or larger resources could work, but if you prefer to travel light, then a folded piece of paper or pocket-size notebook in your back pocket could be something worth looking into. Here are some more ideas:
- Writing in multiple notebooks might result in more bulk, but is a good option if you need to keep things separate.
- Single notebooks are very portable and worth looking into if navigating with a table of contents or page markers/tabs works for you.
- If reorganization afterwards is your thing, then perforated notebooks or individual slips of paper might be best.
- A couple of notebooks might be good if you’re like me and want one notebook to record ideas and another to make sketches or flesh out concepts that don’t necessarily need to take up space with the final ideas.
- Digital platforms (such as Evernote) might be a good option if you want it accessible on multiple devices or if you just don’t want add any more bulk to your daily carry since the platform is accessible on your phone. Note: There are a lot of great digital platforms that might be good to incorporate into your system, and we’ll talk about a couple at the end.
Step 5: Keep It Accessible.
I’ve tried quite a few different methods over the years, but all of them seemed to fail when it came actually having everything ready when the time came. If you can’t access your system when an idea hits, what’s the point? Making sure you’re always ready is imperative to the success of your plan. Let’s figure out the best way to make sure that your resources are not only always with you, but easy to get to when needed:
- Pocket-size notebooks are easy to keep on you at all times and thus accessible around the clock.
- Larger notebooks work if you have a bag or purse to carry them around in (or you don’t mind carrying it around.) There’s always the risk of setting them down and forgetting them or placing them out of arm’s reach, but they allow for more writing area and could be good for those wanting more space but not more notebooks.
- Slips of paper in your pocket could be a good option for those wanting almost no bulk and the greatest portability.
- Keep your calendar or to-do list with your resource. This is what I do. This makes the system too bulky to fit into a pocket, but still portable enough where it’s always with me. It’s a good balance that provides the added benefit of helping me stay on task during the day.
- Mobile digital platforms are accessible wherever your phone is (likely everywhere) and probably includes a little more functionality than a pen and paper.
There are a lot of digital platforms out there that can help you keep things organized, and if they’re mobile friendly, then they can be with you as long as your phone is (which is likely everywhere.) I tried them for recording ideas, and while they have some great features, they just didn’t work for what I needed. Even though they didn’t work for me, some of you might find them exactly what you’re looking for. A couple that I’ve used (and still use for various things) are Evernote and Dropbox.
Evernote is great for recording notes, clips of websites, photos, documents, and probably a lot of stuff that I’m completely unaware that it can do. Personally, I use it for long-term to-do lists, grocery lists, saving a few documents, and information that I want access to but don’t want to carry around paper or a notebook specifically for. Evernote works on mobile and desktops/laptops, and automatically syncs between them all, so you can record the information once and have accessible anywhere. Very cool, highly recommended.
Dropbox is a place to store all of your digital stuff and have it accessible wherever you want. I use it to access files from the office on my laptop at home, and transfer files from my computer to my phone (or vice versa.) This can be useful when you have photos or documents you need access to when you’re at home and on-the-go. Maybe you’ve had a great idea and are worried you’re going to lose the paper you’ve written it on; take a photo of it and save it in dropbox. If you lose your paper, you’ll have backup copies of the idea on your phone and at home. It works great and can be incredibly useful. Highly recommended.
Both the 1951 collection and the Basic. Life Unplugged lines would work well here. They’re both lined only, but are made with the famous Clairefontaine paper, so you know that you’ll have a great writing experience.
High quality and durable notebooks with plenty of pages. They only come in blank and lined ruling (but that’s plenty for a lot of people.) The Blackwing slate options include the famous Blackwing 602 pencil in its own elastic holder.
These come in a variety of ruling options and designs and are extremely popular. They release a limited edition design each quarter, so you’ll always be able to keep the look of your notebook fresh.
There’s a couple different options with this brand. The Traveler’s Notebook line has a ton of different options and is all about portability. Their clothbound line is all high class and quality while providing an exceptional writing experience. Midori is probably the priciest option in this list, but you definitely can’t go wrong here.
High quality paper in a variety of options. There’s quite a few different sizes, bindings, and rulings available. Top-Staplebound notepads are a great option if you’re incorporating loose-paper into your method.
Most of these brands offer both large and pocket-size options, so I’d recommend checking out the product pages of each and seeing which may work best for you.
*These are used in my system (pocket-size).
After following this five steps, you should know what you want to write down, how much space it’ll take, the best way to keep things organized, what you’ll actually use to record everything, and how to keep your method accessible. One thing to remember is that your system may change over time. There’s nothing wrong with realizing that what worked for you in the past or works for you now might not always be the best option. Every once in a while, reevaluate your needs and change your system as necessary. Maybe a hybrid system between digital and analog platforms could work.
For more information on my own system, check out yesterday’s post here.