Post and Artwork by Sierra Ret, Age 17, Canada
One of the most universal traits of writers is our ability to find inspiration anywhere. A faded black and white photo, a particularly gorgeous fall landscape, or a conversation overheard at a restaurant are all capable of igniting the creative fire burning within us. But, personally, I find that my best ideas occur between the hours of 11 and 12 at night, just when I’m warmly curled up under my feather duvet, about to fall asleep.
While this may be a unique experience on my part, the truth is that inspiration and ideas don’t often strike when it’s most convenient. You may have a brilliant gem of a story idea or a humorous idiomatic phrase at the forefront of your mind right now, but chances are that when you finally sit down to write several days from now, it will be long gone.
Here are five tips to help you save your ideas.
Keep a Pocket Journal
Whether this means actually buying a stash of miniature notebooks, or just getting into the habit of making frequent notes on your phone or other device, this is the first step toward recording your moments of inspiration. Don’t worry about details and tidy writing; just get the rough notes down that will allow you to remember your idea later. It can be an interesting medical fact that might fit nicely into your survivalist novel at some point (e.g. honey can disinfect and heal open cuts) or an unique idiom you just heard like: Does he think we just fell off the turnip truck?
Keep an Idea Journal
A pocket journal by definition means that it will fill up fairly rapidly, which is when you’re going to want to transfer its contents over to a larger idea journal. This book can be organized into categories: prompts, interesting words and expressions, thought-provoking stories told to you by friends or strangers, etc. Finally, you’ll be able to keep all of those precious moments of brilliance in one place, unless you’re like me and you want to keep some of those bright ideas a little more visible, in which case you may want to consider my third tip.
Create an Inspiration Board
This can be as simple or as complicated as you like. Mine amounts to a plain cork board hanging on the wall beside my desk with 30-odd items pinned onto it. Postcards, plane tickets, pictures of distant friends, and small mementoes of writing achievements are all jumbled together into a tidy mess that simultaneously reminds me of my blessings while encouraging to me to strive higher. Sometimes I like to pin up notes with an idea I’m not quite ready to write about just to remind me to think about it more.
Create a Pinterest board
It is with some hesitation that I recommend this one, as Pinterest can easily devour hours of your time if you’re not careful. But its pros far outweigh the cons in my opinion. Known for primarily being an online catalog of crafting ideas, Pinterest also holds a wealth of information for writers. Whether you’re looking for a diagram detailing the various pieces of armour worn by medieval knights or a GIF showing exactly what snake venom does to blood, Pinterest has it.
Some of its most helpful uses are its wealth of character images and single sentence prompts. I currently keep all of my writing-related pins on one board (basically a virtual version of the one on my bedroom wall) but many other writers choose to have boards devoted to specific novels or individual characters. Explore Pinterest and see what works best for you. Also, if you come across articles or blog posts on other websites you’d like to keep, you may be able to pin them to your boards on Pinterest to keep them all in one place.
Have a Bedside Notepad. And a pen.
You can simply remember to put your pocket journal on your nightstand every night, but I find it easier just to leave a sheet of sticky notes there. Flipping on the light and jotting down a few sentences will allow you to remember the gist of your idea when you wake up in the morning. Even just the simple act of recording an idea will make it easier to remember without even reading your note again. This is probably my favourite new writing habit, as I can finally record those late-night brainstorms without leaving my warm bed. And since it’s the middle of winter and my bedroom is located in the end of the house farthest away from the fireplaces, it’s a bit of a big deal to me.
Armed with these simple tips for recording sometimes all-too-rare moments of inspiration, you can be sure that you’ll be prepared to capture them on paper next time one strikes you.
Sierra was the winner of the 2015 Polly Prize for Creative Writing.