Writing and Querying

How to Capture Story Ideas

Every writer has thoughts for stories or blog posts or articles flying in and out of their heads. Ruth Stone once described writing poetry as catching the poem before it passed through her. She had to write it down before it barreled away to find another writer.

Liz Gilbert talked about this phenomenon in her famous Ted Talk, saying,

“The whole deal was that she had to get to a piece of paper fast enough so that when it [the poem] thundered through her, she could collect it and grab it on the page. Other times she wouldn’t be fast enough, so she would be running and running, and she wouldn’t get to the house, and the poem would barrel through her and she would miss it, and it would continue on across the landscape looking for ‘another poet’. And then there were these times, there were moments where she would almost miss it. She is running to the house and is looking for the paper and the poem passes through her. She grabs a pencil just as it’s going through her and she would reach out with her other hand and she would catch it. She would catch the poem by its tail and she would pull it backwards into her body as she was transcribing on the page. In those instances, the poem would come up on the page perfect and intact, but backwards, from the last word to the first.”

I’m in one of those states today where the poem barreled through me and began looking for another poet. But in this case the poem is a blog post.

I had a great idea for a blog post. It was going to brilliant. None of you can refute me on that either, because the post is lost to the universe. I made the age-old mistake many writers make. I didn’t write it down. I thought I’d remember.

Which got me thinking. I have a list of story ideas that pop into my brain at random times. I keep it on my phone because I usually have my phone close by whether I’m running, or reading, or writing. If something a client says sparks an idea, I write it down after our meeting. If a chance encounter with an old friend gets my thoughts going, I write it down. If my morning run jogs (see what I did there) a great plot twist, you guessed it, I write it down. I stop in the middle of the sidewalk. Sure, people give me strange looks, but that’s part of the territory as a writer.

Some people keep a notebook by their beds, so they can write down thoughts they dream up. Others carry notebooks wherever they go.

My method is a bit clumsy—I have a dozen notes about stories in my phone—but it works. It allows me to capture my ideas. Most of the time.

How do you capture the ideas that barrel through you?

Photo by STIL.

Leave a Reply