Build an Idea Catalog

My office is littered with ideas. I don’t mean that in a metaphorical sense. It’s more of a literal mess. Scraps of paper tucked into piles. Post It’s attached to my monitor. Each bit of writing shouting to be heard over the din. 

Or at least that’s what it did look like.

A while back I chanced upon a blog post by Austin Kleon about using your journals to generate ideas. The notion of using index cards to capture those fleeting creative moments and organize them into something… Well, at least something a whole lot less messy.

The concept rattled around in my brain for weeks, but I was too busy with work to really do anything about it. Then the new year rolled around and in the spirit of spring cleaning, I decided to take a crack at it.

I had no idea how many various notes were squirreled away in my office. Yes there was the massive stack of paper situated on my desk. Then there were multiple notebooks crammed with plot and character ideas. All of it a jumble.

The index card organization system works like this. Imagine those old fashioned card catalogs from libraries. (Or you could watch the opening scene of Ghostbusters). Before computers, every single book was printed on a card and organized into a tiny drawer. 

Now I wish I had a drawer system like that. Alas, I have only a box. But with color coded cards in hand, I went to work. I gave each color a category and then started rewriting my notes from the scattered ideas onto the cards. 

An amazing thing happened. Ideas started to connect. A jotted notion in a notebook linked with another on a scrap of paper. Plot lines evolved. I even discovered what will probably be my next novel.

Going forward, I feel much more in control of my ideas. A new one springs up and I write it onto a notecard. This also allows me to peruse through the old cards and stir up those ideas. 

If you’re like me, overwhelmed with bits of information in your life, create an idea catalog. It doesn’t have to use index cards. You could have an idea journal or a bulletin board. Whatever you use, the best way to not let our creative notions slip away is to revisit them often.

Ideas get lonely. Spend some time with them.

Tim

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