Got A Great Idea? Write It Down, Lest You Forget!

How many times have you had a random thought or heard or observed something during the course of a normal day which gives you a great idea for your next writing project, but unless you write it down there and then you may as well as forget about your great idea, because it will gone, like the proverbial wind.

Well, if you are anything like me, this will be too many times.

As writers, we all know that we need to keep a notepad and pen close to hand at all times so that we are at the ready to jot down even the smallest prompt which could inspire us at the most unexpected moments. Now I’m not talking about a life-changing epiphany here, but merely enough to cause us to think, “Ah-Ha, that’s just what I am looking for!”

It could be just one word that comes to mind when your are peeling potatoes,  or listening to a few lines from a song on the radio, or  when you are sitting in the car waiting for the lights to turn green.  The next thing you know, you have your idea for your next blog post, an article for a magazine or even for your next paragraph in your book.

A gentle prod or reminder could come during a conversation with somebody, anybody, the postman even (my ‘Aspie’ daughter has an obsessive ‘e-bay’ shopping habit so I am regularly being interrupted by the knock at the door only to see our postman loaded down with yet more packages for her.   We are on first-name basis now and one morning I joked, “We must stop meeting like this!” I hope he didn’t take it the wrong way, but I’m thinking an  idea for a short story perhaps?) and there it is, that ‘lightbulb’ moment.

My problem is that if I am not able to write these ideas down right away (say, if I’m driving for instance)  thinking that I will remember them later, then the moment is lost because inevitably,  I will forget what my really great idea ever was.

Then, there is what we call in our house, the ‘3-a-m-er’ meaning I wake up, ‘Bing!’, like clockwork, at 3 am and can’t get back to sleep.  Tossing and turning (the worst thing to do, I know) and what happens?  The ebb and flow of the noise of life and living, words swirling around in my mind as they cavort with memories of conversations and images and emotions, all linking up together which give rise to some of my best writing ideas during this time.

It makes sense to me that it would be good to write these ideas down as they come to me in the small hours but I worry that if I get up, put the light on and then start to write, I will become so wide awake that I won’t be able to get back to sleep at all. Although, since I struggle to do this anyway perhaps this is a redundant point.

Sunset at Ranworth Broad, Norfolk Broads UK (c) Sherri Matthews 2013

Sunset at Ranworth Broad, Norfolk Broads, England
(c) Sherri Matthews 2013

What inspires you to write as the day winds down and breaks into an evening sunset?

What, then, of dreams?  We all know that if we should happen to have a particularly interesting dream, unless we write it down as soon as we wake up it will be lost.   Thankfully, this was not the case for William Rose, the writer of the screenplay for the wonderful British black comedy, ‘The Ladykillers’.  He came up with the entire idea for the film in a dream, getting his wife to write the details down as soon as he woke up !

Writing down thoughts as they come to mind, I find, takes discipline, as does so much when it comes to writing in general.  Being able to rely upon my powers of instant recall is no longer a luxury I possess. However, one little trick I have tried that does seem to work, most of the time anyway, is that if I repeat whatever it is I want to remember by speaking it out loud to myself at least three times, my recall is not too bad.  So what if I look like I’m talking to myself?

Recently, I watched an episode of Mad Men. Great show, by the way.  ‘Stan’ works at the Ad Agency and is desperately looking for a tagline for an account he is working on.  No matter how hard he tries he just can’t get any inspiration.  Working long hours into the night, he wanders down to the kitchen where he bumps into the janitor and they have a little chat. Stan asks about the janitor’s background and discovers that his name is ‘Achilles’.

It is only a very brief conversation but as Stan walks back to his office he has a ‘lightbulb’ moment, triggered by the janitor’s name and realises that he has found his tagline!

To celebrate, Stan pours himself a drink, then another, gets drunk and falls asleep.  The next morning it all comes back to him and he can’t wait to share his great idea with his colleagues but he can’t remember what it is!  He frantically starts looking for the piece of paper on which he wrote his idea before realising, with horror, that he had forgotten to write it down before he had started drinking and the moment is well and truly lost.

A brilliant scene in which you really feel his pain and incidentally, we never do learn what his tagline was but there was a rather poignant moment when later, Stan is talking to ‘Peggy’ about his ‘unfortunate’ memory lapse and he quotes a Chinese saying:

The faintest ink is better than the best memory’.

Thanks ‘Mad Men’!  I think that I have already learnt a valuable lesson; as soon as I heard this wonderful line, I grabbed a pen and the nearest piece of paper I could find and immediately wrote it down!

“Why is it I always get my best ideas while shaving?”Albert Einstein

About Sherri Matthews

Sherri is a writer with work published in print magazines, anthologies and online. As a young British mum of three, she emigrated to California and stayed for twenty years. Today she lives in England's West Country, a full-time carer within her family. Her current WIP after completing her memoir is a psychological thriller.
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10 Responses to Got A Great Idea? Write It Down, Lest You Forget!

  1. jennypellett says:

    I always seem to get my moments of creative brilliance while I’m in the shower which is inconvenient, to say the least. By the time I’m out and in a position to write anything down, my ideas have disappeared down the plughole. What I need is one of those old fashioned Dictaphones, balanced on the side of the basin. Writing is hard work, no question, but is so satisfying if the words occasionally appear in the right order.


    • Sherri says:

      Ha! Disappearing down the plughole is about right, it’s that fast isn’t it? I do actually have a small dictaphone which is a good idea but it still doesn’t seem to sink in (pardon the pun) properly unless I actually write down my ‘great ideas’. Either way, it is certainly well worth it when at last we put pen to paper – or should I say fingers on keyboard – and manage to create something somewhat legible! Thanks for sharing Jenny 🙂


  2. Heyjude says:

    I have been known to get up in the middle of the night and write things down – it actually enables you to go back to sleep instead of your brain whirring away for the rest of the night! I always keep a notebook and pen next to my bed 🙂


    • Sherri says:

      Well that just proves what I have suspected all along! Next time my mind is buzzing away I will try this as has been suggested to me many times over. Perhaps this is the breakthrough I have been looking for and a cure for writer’s insomnia! Thanks Jude 🙂


  3. Good advice Sherri. Love the photo of the sunset.


  4. As to Mr. Einstein’s comment: I often come up with ideas when I stop being intellectual and get down to manual labor. I think it is because we “let go” and our brain is free to wander where it needs to go — and, voila! The words or ideas pop into my head. I get great ideas washing dishes or folding laundry!


    • Sherri says:

      I totally agree! It is annoying though because I find that I want to get on with the task in hand and so I ignore the need to grab pen and paper to quickly write the idea down kidding myself (again!) that I’ll remember it, which of course I don’t! Thanks for sharing your ‘Einstein moment’ Bev 🙂


  5. Hello my love!!

    I totally agree with this 100%! I remember asking an author for advice with writing one day & he said the exact same thing. He said bring pen & paper everywhere with you because thoughts can pop into your mind anytime & you WILL forget them. So I do try to bring note pad etc but sometimes I feel it’s too much baggage & yep..I end up forgetting a promising thought. I also have it at home. I can be laying in bed or walking around the house & have a thought but think ‘it can wait’, but yep you guessed late! It’s gone! lol!!

    Hope your feeling a bit better now 🙂 xx


  6. Sherri says:

    Hello sweet Maria, how lovely to see your comment here, thanks so much for sharing your ‘forgetful moments’! It is amazing isn’t it how quickly our thoughts are forgotten in the course of the day. It is a discipline to make sure to write them down there and then and sounds easy enough but really isn’t! Doing better thanks, hope you are too, and keep writing, great stuff 🙂 xx


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