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Robert's Rules of Writing #18: Memo Yourself

[Rule quoted from Robert's Rules of Writing: 101 Unconventional Lessons Every Writer Needs to Know by Robert Masello (Writer's Digest Books, 2005). See my original post for the rules of this discussion.]

Another rule that I doubt anyone will disagree with.

With the rule "Memo Yourself," Masello advises writers to keep a pen and pad (or the equivalent) handy at all times. You never know when an idea will come to mind, and if you fail to jot it down, you will lose it. Later on, when you remember that you had an idea, you will rack your brain trying to recall what it was...and you will be convinced that it was the most brilliant idea you've ever had, gone forever.

I know of no writer who ignores this advice. (Well, Isaac Asimov claimed that he was always able to remember the ideas he got even if he didn't jot them down right away, but he's an exception.) Everyone does it differently. Some writers use a pen and pad, and keep it next to their bed at night, in case they get an idea. Others use a small digital recorder; this is especially handy if you're driving and can't stop to write. One writer I know collects his ideas on paper and then puts them all in one big folder in his computer, which he calls his ldea garden. The incomparable farwing uses a Moleskine notebook. But the key point here is that every writer has a method of jotting down an idea as soon as it comes to mind.

And you have to do it, no matter what. Last night, Nomi and I were having dinner with friends, and an idea came up for a story. I took a moment away from the conversation to jot down the idea down before I lost it.

I don't use pad and paper anymore. My own idea book has evolved. Once I used a small notebook to keep all my ideas in; nowadays, I have a category called "Idea Book" in the Memos program of my handheld PDA. Of course, I keep the notes backed up on my computer; I shudder to think about what would happen if the notes got deleted by accident.

On a further personal note, following this rule is difficult if you avoid writing on the Jewish sabbath (from Friday sundown to Saturday sundown). So whenever I get an idea during that period, I have to rely on my memory to avoid losing it. My solution is to rely on gnomi's memory as well. I find that if we repeat the idea over and over, she tends to recall it after the sabbath is over. (In fact, one my Hugo-nominated stories never would have been written had Nomi not recalled the idea, for which I am grateful.)

So what method do you use to jot down your ideas?


I haul Moleskines around with me, too. One for writing, one for font sketching.
I love the Moleskine notebook, and tried using one to jot down ideas. The thing is, I'm now too used to the PDA.

I've been sketching in a small sketch pad I bought for practice. Not fonts, but faces.
As I was reading this I was getting ready to ask the Shabbat question, so thanks for answering it before I asked. :-)

I have very limited relevant experience, but I've found that the mere act of writing something down helps me to remember it, even if I never see that piece of paper again. I'm not sure why that is.
The other option would be to tell the idea to someone who's not Jewish, and have them say, "Wow! I really think I ought to write that down." :-)
that works for me too! also sometimes asking someone to remind me of something, sets it more in my head to remember myself. but far moreso the writing. :)
When I had an hour-long commute (6 days/week), I'd come up with a list of key words that would be enough to trigger what I'd wanted to journal while driving. Not the same as a story idea, though.
i'd say it is (the same), just that it's applied to journal instead of fiction.
I have yellow pieces of paper EVERYWHERE because we use legal pads at work. I jot stuff down take it home and there it sits in the pile of ideas.

When I'm writing fiction and I have an idea that doesn't pertain to what I'm writing about at that moment (but pertains to the story), I put it in brackets in uppercase or in red so that I can refer to it later.
Piers Anthony does something similar when he's typing out his manuscript, although I think he puts all sorts of asides in there, whether or not they're relevant to the current story. He talks about this in the epilogue to one of the Incarnations of Immortality books.
When I have a manuscript in progress, it's filled with asterisks and notes like **FIX THIS** to remind me to go back and fix things. But if I have an idea for something new in the current story, I usually open a new file called $TITLE_notes and put the notes there.
i am the stickynote queen. they should call me Memento-girl. ;)
*g* Meet the one writer who *doesn't* write down ideas. On purpose.

When I first get an idea, it usually needs tweaking before it's really workable. I find if I write down an idea before I've fully rolled it around, it's set in stone as far as I'm concerned, and all that flexible play stops dead. In general, I don't set pen to paper -- even a sentence to jog my memory -- until most of the plot and roughly three pages of dialogue and description are letter-perfect, because that's the apex of the process and I'll start to lose quality if I keep retaining it all in my brain from that point on. So, if I kept Shabbes prohibitions against writing (which I don't, as long as it's not editing or academic writing), the idea would only be ready to write down by havdalah anyway.

December 2016

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