Manage your story ideas better to help you make the most of your writing time

How to manage your writing ideasI hope your writing week has been filled with lots of words! If it hasn’t, never fear. I’m here to help. Here is post No. 4 in my Getting Started series and it’s all about methods for collecting your story ideas, and why it’s such a good idea to do so.

First, a question. Have you ever had a great idea for a scene, or a perfectly formed sentence come to you, only to forget to write it down and then have no clue what the idea was just a few hours later? Or perhaps you did write it down but now you can’t find which scrap of paper you scribbled the damn idea on? I’m guilty as charged. Both of these things have happened to me. But not for a while because I now have a system for collecting my ideas which I thought I’d share with you.

Where ideas fit into the writing process

Ideas are obviously crucial to writers if we want to keep moving our word count onwards. But there’s nothing that makes writing time run out faster than using that time to come up with an idea. Writing time is for writing. Ideas happen at all other, often inconvenient, times.

What I do when I have an idea

Here’s what I do. No matter where and when I have an idea, I write it down straight away. As you can see in the picture on the right, this might mean a scribble on a piece of notepaper, or a jotting on the back of a business card, whatever is available. I record my voice on my phone if I’m driving. I have a notebook in my handbag and another one by my bed. I’ve used parking tickets, envelopes, anything that can be written on. I’ve even contemplated using my children! (not really!)

I used to have a master ideas notebook on my desk. Every couple of days, I would gather up all the scraps and notes and re-write them into the master notebook on my desk. When it was my writing time, I would open up the master notebook, look at the list of ideas and pick whichever was most appealing at that time. Then I would write the idea into a scene. It meant that every time I sat down to write, I had something to work on. There was no procrastination, no waiting for the muse to show up, no scouring my mind for ideas.

The index cards that have a yellow box in the top right corner are just ideas; the one that has a blue box in the top right corner is a completed scene. I use Scrivener's Labels feature to highlight whether each card is for an idea or a scene.

The index cards that have a yellow box in the top right corner are just ideas; the one that has a blue box in the top right corner is a completed scene. I use Scrivener’s Labels feature to highlight whether each card is for an idea or a scene.

Collecting ideas using Scrivener

I still do something similar, but I’ve gone techie! No master notebook; instead all of my ideas are popped straight into a Scrivener document. I basically create a new scene (or index card) for each new idea. On the index card, I jot down the idea. When I sit down to write, I run my eye over the index cards and choose which one I want to work with and then I begin to write it into a scene.

Sometimes I get ideas to flesh out an existing scene. I can do that in Scrivener too; Scrivener has a yellow notes section at the bottom right corner of each scene and so I just put my idea into there. Then I colour code the scene using Scrivener’s Label feature so I know it’s a scene I have to come back to and add more to.

A way to manage all of your writing ideas

Other writers use post-it notes on a chart; there are many other variations. It doesn’t matter so much what your method is. The important thing is:

  • to keep having ideas
  • to jot the ideas down when you have them
  • to have a “master list” or someplace to collect all of the different ideas together
  • to use that master list as your work plan; choose one idea from the list and sit down to write. Never worry about what order the ideas should be in or working in some kind of chronology. Work on whatever idea strikes you the most at the time.

Take action now – how will you get your ideas process working?

I hope you’ve enjoyed this Getting Started series and that it’s helped you to make a start on your book. I believe it’s possible for anyone to write a book, they key thing is being inspired and staying motivated. I wanted this series to be one of the things that could inspire and motivate you to get your word count rolling and to start believing in yourself.

I’d love to know how you’re going, what progress you’ve made, what problems you’ve faced. What is your method for managing ideas? Do you have one? Have I encouraged you to develop one?

Most importantly, what’s the one thing you’re going to do right now to get your ideas process working? I’d love to hear from you in the comments.


  1. Snooky

    I love Scrivener, but haven’t used the index card feature. I use both the upper and lower right hand note areas for ideas, descriptions of characters and settings, and any other information I will need. This is a great way to keep track of changes. Do you know the lower note area toggles for note pertinent to the current document or note pertaining to the project? Works great for me. I also use Scapple to list attributes of characters, scene ideas and how they connect to event or characters. I also use it for a sort of time line or story line illustration. Recently I wrote a scene involving seven primary characters, three lesser characters, four animal friendlies, and three types of adversaries. Scapple was a life saver. Without it, how would I have kept track of who was doing what at any given point in the battle? I enjoy your blog.

    • Thanks for your comments. I just love the way Scapple and Scrivener are both so flexible that any writer with any process working in any genre on any kind of story can easily make the features work for them. I think it’s great that everyone has a slightly different way of using the programs to suit their project. And what a great way to use Scapple, I love the idea you’ve suggested.

  2. These are great tips! I take pictures of things to use as prompts later if I see something that interests me or starts to formulate ideas. I have so many bizarre pictures on my phone!

  3. I like to use the notecard feature too. I also use the label feature to differentiate between the different POV’s. Great series.

    • Hi Elizabeth, thanks so much for you comment. I’m glad you’ve enjoyed the series.

      I haven’t yet used Scrivener for a novel in which I’m writing using different POVs but I alway think it would be fantastic for that. Glad to hear that it works for you too.

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