For most writers, the problem isn’t ideas—it’s finding the time and discipline to bring those ideas to life (and then, often enough, dealing with the brain-frying realization that you just spent six months working on a terrible, terrible, no-good novel). The ideas come fast and furious, and writers also know the inexorable sadness of watching those ideas melt away if we don’t work on them.
So, most of us make notes. You might carry around a literal notebook, or use an App on your phone, or a complex system of soggy cocktail napkins. You jot down a few key words and hope to hell Future You is smart (and sober) enough to understand what Present You is trying to say. And usually Future You, who is a more bitter and older version of you, has no idea what you’re talking about.
So here’s an idea: Don’t write notes. Write stories.
The Mega Note
The idea is to take the ideas that come to you in flashes of inspiration and actually flesh them out into something that would be recognized as a story. Not a slow-cooked, hand-crafted piece of literature that you would submit to an editor, but rather a hot-take on the idea, written quickly, and skipping over a lot of the grace notes and meat that makes a story more than just a jumble of character sketches and plot points. In other words, don’t just jot down the future except the sun is purple, write out a jumble of character sketches and plot points that form a semi-coherent story about how it’s the future, except the sun is purple (we can only assume Past You had some sort of brilliant metaphor in mind, or perhaps was a Prince fan).
This takes some time, of course, but not as much as you might think. The key is to put aside your usual urge to wordsmith and craft, and instead to pretend you’ve got to have this story written in four days or the world will be blown up by aliens. Bang it out. Then put it aside and as with all ideas, let it simmer for a bit. Forget about it. And when you come back to it a few days or months or years later, you won’t have a single line of inscrutable words, you’ll have a full-on treatment of the idea you can revise, refine, and shape. Once you get into the habit of doing this, you’ll find your moments of inspiration are a lot more productive, because you’ll capture the energy of that inspiration—or you’ll discover there wasn’t any ‛there’ there in the first place, which can also save you time and energy because you’re not carrying an idea around for a decade, convinced it’s brilliant, only to have it fall apart the moment you finally sit down to write it.
Unless, of course, you enjoy making confused, inscrutable notes on soggy cocktail napkins. In which case, you do you.