Notes from An Alien

~ Explorations In Reading, Writing, and Publishing ~

A Trick of The Writers’ Trade . . .

Line up 100 writers

Ask them all to share one “trick” they use to help them in their writing

Odds are you’ll have between 70 and 90 different tips.

Sure I made that statistic up but it is based on a bit of experience :-)

Suffice to say, there are a scad of individual little unique approaches to getting the writing job done.

Try this one on for fit…

Many writers use notebooks—physical or digital—and checking those 100 writers again would produce around 40 to 60 different approaches to making notes—though, these stats may be greatly inflated by my rather optimistic opinion of the individuality of writers :-)

What if you kept a special notebook/file/space that had a running list of all the odd, hard to categorize ideas and partial ideas you have?

And, further, what if, every so often, you read that master odd-idea file to yourself?

This is not my idea.

I’m sharing just one of Steven Johnson‘s ideas

One of the books he’s written is Where Good Ideas Come From: The Natural History of Innovation.

Let me share some of his thinking about that master odd-idea file from an article by him on a site called MediumThe Spark File:

“The problem with hunches is that it’s incredibly easy to forget them, precisely because they’re not fully-baked ideas.”

“And even the ones that you do manage to retain often don’t turn out to be useful to you for months or years, which gives you countless opportunities to lose track of them.”

“…for the past eight years or so I’ve been maintaining a single document where I keep all my hunches: ideas for articles, speeches, software features, startups, ways of framing a chapter I know I’m going to write, even whole books.”

“…the key habit that I’ve tried to cultivate is this: every three or four months, I go back and re-read the entire spark file.”

“Sure, I end up reading over many hunches that never went anywhere, but there are almost always little sparks that I’d forgotten that suddenly seem more promising. And it’s always encouraging to see the hunches that turned into fully-realized projects or even entire books.”

Then, he gives seven random examples of his Sparks—and, then, this:

“…the most interesting part of the experience, which is the feeling of reading through your own words describing new ideas as they are occurring to you for the first time. In a funny way, it feels a bit like you are brainstorming with past versions of yourself. You see your past self groping for an idea that now seems completely obvious five years later. Or, even better, you’re reminded of an idea that seems suddenly relevant to a new project you’ve just started thinking about.”

So, how does this writer’s tip strike you?

Is it too simple to work?

Is it a genius use of time and mind?

Think you could implement it?

Please, do, share you ideas and opinions in the Comments :-)
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7 responses to “A Trick of The Writers’ Trade . . .

  1. Barbara Blackcinder June 27, 2013 at 5:18 pm

    My own system requires that I write something of the idea down somewhere. This gets it into my short term memory as opposed to losing it forever. How many times have we lost things that we were absolutely, positively, for sure, going to remember because it was so simple, and so obvious. I keep a pad of paper with my books as I read them, and as soon as possible I write a short synopsis or even a few paragraphs of the ‘idea’ that occurred. My shortcoming though is not going through this notebook on a regular basis. Due to the multitude of them, as well as the longer length due to what I write down, this may take a while…….but I’ll do it! As soon as I slow down with the creation of these tidbits. ;-)


    • Alexander M Zoltai June 27, 2013 at 5:35 pm

      Yes, Barbara, I think the “keeping of notes” is much easier for writers than the “perusing” of them :-)


  2. JournalForCreativity (@J4Creativity) June 28, 2013 at 4:32 pm

    A common problem, writers don’t review the entries in their notebooks/journals. Why?
    Because most of the time they are never told to do so. “You must record”, “you must take notes”. A stuck message in an ancient vinyl disc. Never are they told “Make reviewing a habit.”

    We need to review our experiences, it has to be important and it has to be planned.
    Let’s look at that word “review”, can you see it? “RE” – “VIEW”. It says , ‘let us see it AGAIN.’
    Let’s look at “experiences”, not notes, not a shopping list, not stuff. When we record an experience it is interesting to return to it, to re-live it..
    Finally, “planned”, if we don’t plan to review our entries then we are planning not to, because we all know how good intentions come to naught.
    Fix a day, fix a time, make or pull your favourite brew, settle down in a soft chair with old and new journals, and re-view. Make notes as you do, make new journal entries as you do, shut your eyes and re-live as you do.
    For to review is to get value. And to get value makes it all worthwhile.

    Sorry, I get a bit zealous about the need to review.


    • Alexander M Zoltai June 28, 2013 at 4:57 pm

      No problem, Zealous is Good :-)

      Still wondering when I can share an interview with you with my readers


      • JournalForCreativity (@J4Creativity) June 28, 2013 at 11:12 pm

        Alexander, I have just sent you an e-mail to get the interview started.


        • Alexander M Zoltai June 28, 2013 at 11:38 pm

          Excellent :-)


          • Alexander M Zoltai June 28, 2013 at 11:44 pm


            Still no email………….?


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