Managing the Idea Factory

Wednesday, January 27, 2021


Back in December, I wrote the following in an Instagram post: 

Here’s something you need to know about creative people. We have notebooks all over the place filled with our ideas and scraps of projects. We drink a lot of caffeine. We have periodic bouts of insomnia because we can’t turn our brains off. We get discouraged when we can’t see immediate results from the creative process. We drive our loved ones crazy. But is who we are, and we can’t change that. Nor would we ever want to. 

There are times when my brain is flooded with ideas and I can’t keep track of them. And then there days when I feel I don’t have a creative bone in my body left. The problem is that I struggle with organizing my ideas and moving projects forward. For my day job as a magazine editor, I constantly have to search for ideas for monthly content. We have monthly themes for each magazine, so that helps. I keep things organized in a very basic spreadsheet in Excel, month by month, and fill in each department as I confirm ideas and assign articles. I use Excel to track my monthly income from magazines, articles and blog posts, along with a brief description of individual assignments. For my other personal writing projects, however, the structure is just not there. 

I have a notebook I’ve labeled as being for “True Crime,” and if you peek inside, you’ll see jumbled lists of names, dates, places, ideas for true crime blog posts, cases I want to research for my podcast, and ideas for social media posts and e-newsletters. I would be in big trouble if I lost that notebook because unless a script or blog post is already written, I don’t have a backup source of content ideas. 

While researching efficient ways to organize my ideas, I found my head spinning as one blogger described using a program called Evernote to capture her ideas, Google spreadsheets to organize them and then another program to manage the workflow of each idea. Maybe I’m just an undisciplined mess, but the whole process made me more confused than ever. 

I would love to come up with some other organized system for capturing and executing my ideas, but so far I haven’t come across one. I’ve spoken before about how I consider myself a “pantser” rather than a “plotter,” when it comes to writing, but lately this seems to be hindering the creative process more than I’d like. I don’t want to shut down the idea factory that seems to be churning in my brain as of late but if I don’t find a way to streamline the inspiration, I’m afraid I’ll lose it for good. 

How do you keep track of ideas for your writing projects and stay on track? I’m open to any and all suggestions!


Renee Roberson is an award-winning writer and freelance magazine editor who also hosts the true crime podcast, Missing in the Carolinas. Learn more at


Sioux Roslawski said...

Renee--I'm sorry I can't help you. I'm probably more of a pantser than you are. In fact, what's even more unorganized and jumbled up when it comes to the creative process than a pantser? Perhaps I'm a Donald Duck-er, since he has no pants. ;)

Good luck. If you find something that works for you, pass it on. Maybe it will even work with me.

Sue Bradford Edwards said...

My ideas are just in my bulleted journal until I start writing. Not a great system but it is what I have.

When I have an idea for a blog post, I just key it into a WordPress post and save it vs publishing it. That way I have it on hand for my next series of posts.

Donald Duck-er? Thanks for the much needed laugh!


Jeanine DeHoney said...

Renee I had great intentions when I started writing my ideas on index cards and storing them in a card file last year, but I still found myself writing my ideas in my notebooks. Notebooks also allow me more space to develop my ideas so I think I'll stick to that. I think you just have to find what works for you but what doesn't overwhelm you.

Cathy C. Hall said...

Um...I have a file folder that I drop my idea notes into. But then I have to remember to check the file. Sometimes, I email thoughts to myself so I'll see them whenever I open my inbox. And I'll put a sticky note on my calendar when I come across an idea that I think will make a good blog post.

Also, I have notebooks. Lots of notebooks, in lots of different sizes. I realize that I'm not helping. I just wanted to say you are not alone. :-)

Cindy said...


I'm new here at WOW and I read your post. I just recently started to pull my thoughts together and start writing. I've always enjoyed writing down thoughts, ideas, and use descriptive words to explain emotions. I really didn't know where to start because I usually just jot thoughts down in several different journal books.

I started using Microsoft OneNote for Windows 10 about a year ago. I first started to organize my recipes that I had saved in several different locations. It took me a while to get the hang of it and understand it but now it's a wonderful tool for me!

I just started to use it to put my ideas for writing together as I'm able to create electronic notebooks with any subject and add pages with ideas, etc. It's also synced between my devices, including my computer so I can access it where ever I happen to be. This allows me to jot down ideas while even sitting in a doctors office and refer to it later.

Perhaps this may be an option as it's helping me tremendously!


Renee Roberson said...

Sioux--I think I'm pretty close to being a Donald-Ducker, too! Love that description. :-)

Sue--I have just started creating blog post drafts in WordPress to keep track of some of my ideas. Now if I can just remember to go back and look at that drafts folder on the regular!

Jeanine--I like the idea of a notecard file. My husband is really big on post-it notes on a wall, it bothers me to have stuff constantly stuck to my wall so I haven't used that strategy in awhile.

Cathy--I guess I'm glad to see I'm not the only one who goes school and relies on notebooks! I do think I will start using my planner more to jot down notes for post ideas, especially if they are centered around monthly or national holidays and there could be a tie in.

Cindy--Thanks for commenting! I do have Microsoft OneNote on my computer but haven't ever tested it out. I'll look into downloading the app on my phone because, as we have all experienced, you don't always have a notebook on you when inspiration strikes!

Theresa Boedeker said...

I wish I had a better system, but lots of little notes and ideas jotted on paper and put in piles and then in folders. Not organized at all. But don't know what else to do.

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