The organized writer. Oxymoron right? Not for me. I love organizing AND I’m creative. I read that author Annie Dillard realized writing down her thoughts gave her physical access to the contents of her mind. That is why I organize. I thought I’d write a series of posts about how I do it. I use a combo of high tech and low tech organizational tools. I’m hoping you will share with me what you do too.


Ideas. Story ideas, blog post ideas, photography series ideas, crazy wacky ideas that are pure fantasy (or ARE they?).They come anywhere, anytime (usually when you’re driving down the freeway with no pen or paper in sight).  I’ve learned over the years that I can store a max of three ideas in my head at one time before I HAVE to get it down somewhere or the ideas will become unrecognizable mush in my brain. I had to come up with a system. Going through piles of napkins and post its and receipts with stories written on them was not working for me.

The high tech way:
Google Docs otherwise known as my IDEA FILES. I wish I could take credit for this. I subscribe to Austin Kleons’ newsletter and he wrote about how he organized his ideas and how he was inspired by an article by Steve Johnson called The SparkFile. After reading their articles, I will always keep ideas/sparks this way from now on.


What my spark files look like on my laptop


In my Google Drive, I have a file titled SPARK FILES. In that file I have handful of documents: Blog Sparks, Story Sparks, Goal Sparks, Travel Sparks, Marketing sparks, School Visit Sparks and Other Sparks. This is where I keep all my ideas. Those ideas that pop into my head that I might use at that exact moment, but someday I will. What I love most about my spark files is that I have access to these files wherever I go.  I can access on my computer of course, but I also have the Google Doc app on my phone. No million pieces of paper. No more writing down and transferring into one master notebook.  I love this. Anywhere I am and I have an idea, I can put in my appropriate spark document.

What is this thing called Google Drive and how do I create my Google Docs??
To have a Google Drive you must have a gmail account. To find your Google drive click the icon at the top right of your gmail account with the nine little squares, then click the “drive” icon. Once in, click on the “new” button on the top left, then “folder.” And there you are, all ready to get your idea files started! Never forget a genius idea again.



The low tech way:
Notebooks. Yeah I know. Duh. As I’ve mentioned I use a combo of high tech and low tech. I keep a few notebooks for ideas regularly. I have a master notebook I use to write more specific lists, outlining specific blog posts, bullet pointing my upcoming newsletters, random thoughts, essays that will never see the light of day, but I needed to get out. This goes everywhere with me. I also keep paperback moleskine notebooks (I buy them in three pack in Target.) for specific novels I’m working on. In these notebooks I write specific ideas for this novel: dialogue, character ideas, setting, plot points. Whatever enters my head. I use this a lot early in the process when I’m still brainstorming. Then use it a bit differently after I’ve drafted, still for random ideas, but more about structure and notes I want to address. These notebooks also go everywhere with me. I prefer using hardcopy notebooks for these kind of ideas. I can draw arrows and cross out things. It feels more organic.

I also keep post its by my bedside for those middle of the night genius ideas. Of course sometimes the notes looks like this:

Then I will take those rare post its and put them in one of my notebooks or Google Docs. Wherever appropriate.


Some last thoughts about ideas. I think you should write down every idea, no matter how crazy or doubtful you feel. You never know. I wrote down an idea I thought was super nuts and guess what? It’s happening. And I really think the act of writing things down actually creates more ideas to generate. Also Spark files are great for days when you are feeling unfocused and uninspired. I go there when I feel like I have nothing to offer and walk away with my well filled with inspiration and confidence.

This is what I do. What do you do?