Monday, April 15, 2013

Recording Our Ideas

by Elizabeth S. Craig, @elizabethscraig
I was on my way to a meeting last week and was perfectly on time.  The meeting was a bit off the beaten path, out of the city, and down a road I wasn’t familiar with. 

The landscape changed from businesses to a combination of very nice homes and dilapidated homes to stables to silos.

But when I passed the house pictured above, I knew I had to turn around and go back.  I had to take a picture.  It was going to make me a little late (and I’m practically OCD about being late, as I’ve mentioned here before).  But I had to take the picture. The discarded door propped up against a column, the ruined and overgrown landscaping, the boarded-up windows….it gave the house the perfect, haunted feel.

I’m very fond of Southern Gothic,  even going so far as to daringly insert as much of the element as I could get away with in a cozy that’s coming out this December for Penguin.  So having an inspiration file that includes real examples of Southern Gothic homes (the kind of places that William Faulkner would have set stories around.) 

The pictures I took went into a special file that I keep for story inspiration.  Pictures are a big part of it.  Description is not my strong suit, but looking at pictures of settings and potential characters makes the process a lot easier. Once I was so stunned at a restaurant by running into one of my characters (someone I'd made up...who looked--in my mind--exactly like the stranger in front of me), that I ended up sneaking four or five photos of them with my phone. I'm hoping they just didn't notice what I was doing.  Otherwise they likely thought I was completely insane.

Idea files are, in my way of thinking, completely necessary.  And not only for the work we’re currently writing, but whatever else we might be interested in writing down the road. 

Some writers are using Pinterest for inspiration: pinning images of people who look like characters they’re developing or settings they’re using in their story.  Writer Karen Woodward has a nice post on other ways of using Pinterest to help us write our books in “Using Pinterest To Help Build Your Fictional Worlds.” 

But there’s no need to use Pinterest if you don’t want to.  The important thing is just to respect our ideas enough to record them.  There have been many, many times when I thought I’d remember my great idea…and then completely forgot them.  

Evernote is a free, handy way to record and search our ideas.  There is a desktop version as well as an app (and you can sync them to each other, if you like.)  You can use it to store pictures and text, or email files directly to the app.  Organizing the ideas is easy if you tag your entries or assign them to notebooks.  Then you can search for the tags when you’re ready to write.

Voice recorders.  I use Smart Voice Recorder—a free app for my phone.  It’s just another way to capture thoughts for later.  The reason why sometimes I like using a voice recorder for ideas is because occasionally I’ll get an idea so nebulous that I can’t even really describe or pin it down at that point.  So I’ll explain what I was doing and who was around and voice as much about the idea or feeling as I can.

Word docs work well, too and are a good repository for random bits of ideas.  We should back these up the same way we do our stories.

I probably go the old-fashioned route and use pen and paper most often.  The most important thing I’ve learned about this cheap and portable way of recording ideas is that I need to collect all my scraps of paper at the end of the day and either catalog them on a computer or at least put them in a central location so I can locate them when I need them.

How you do record your ideas and find them again later?