How to Record Your Ideas With a Messaging App

When I have a great idea, it’s often hard to pull out a notepad, grab my pen, and find a flat surface to write on. All those little elements are friction and even the act of pulling out my notebook makes me question… is this idea even good enough to write down? Is this worth it? 

Recording, organizing, and revisiting your ideas is a very important part of being a writer, so this was something I wanted to figure out. How can I make this a part of my process? 

This is how: messaging apps. 

I learned about this method from how Judd Apatow wrote Knocked Up. During breaks while shooting 40 Year Old Virgin, Apatow was emailing himself story ideas on his Blackberry. I thought that was brilliant, because email is already a platform that organizes content for you. You don’t need an extra note-taking app for that. It’s also up in the cloud or whatever, so you can access it on your phone, computer, tablet, whatever. 

For me, I felt that email was even a step too far. For initial ideas, I use something simpler and more informal and that’s messaging apps. 

I’m currently using Facebook Messenger to track all my ideas when I’m away from my computer which is very often. I like Facebook Messenger because I can access it on my computer easily and it allows me to delete messages too. It’s more personal preference than anything else. Here’s how I do it. 

First, I set it up as though I’m having a conversation with myself. I’m the only one I’m talking to. 

Then I treat it as though I’m telling the idea to myself. It’s a little conversation. You know how you sometimes talk out loud to yourself? Do that, but message yourself. 

It can be anything from a question, to a title, to a paragraph. Sometimes I jot down a theme or something interesting I saw. 80% is nonsense, but 20% are pretty good ideas and stories I might pursue. This one for example: A boy going off to buy clothes for himself for the first time to impress a girl. 

I don’t know what I’m going to do with that, but it’s definitely something I can expand on if I’m ever feeling completely drained on ideas.. 

What’s great about it is that these ideas are all kept in chronological order like a message thread, so I’m able to scroll back and find the date when I jotted it down. It actually brings me back to that moment where I came up with the idea: waiting for the bus or walking or having a drink at a bar. It’s a little snapshot of a moment in my life that I get to revisit, even if I was alone with my thoughts. 

I have been using this method of tracking down my ideas for over a year now and I still have ideas in here that I haven’t gotten to yet. It’s fun to scroll back and see what I wrote. 

It might seem sad as though you are having a conversation with yourself, but this is very useful for me. So I recommend giving it a shot and if you do, let me know how it goes in the comments below. 

I made it my goal this year to come up with an idea — regardless of how bad it is — every day. If you want 10 measurable writing goals? Check out this video here. 

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How to Deal With Too Many Ideas

If you are like me, sometimes you’d think you have a great idea, but then you discover as you are working on it, that it’s not that great. In a way, you spent more time on it than you should have. Today, I’m going to show you a technique I use to test my ideas before diving into a large project.

Write Your Ideas Down

Ideas are useless. They are worth nothing. The fact that you have too many ideas is of no value, so don’t hoard it. It’s important not to wait for a perfect time. You can’t save it for later. You are most likely going to forget it — good or bad.

Yet when you are committed to writing, and not sure which idea to pursue, it can get overwhelming. I know. I’m an idea guy. I have an infinite amount and it’s simply taking up space in my head. 

So recently, I decided to get all my ideas out into the open and bring it into the physical world.

My goal is not to randomly pick an idea and commit to it. I want to test the water on as many ideas as possible. I want to pull them out of my head and see it on paper, and really consider — is this something I want to work on for a long period?

How do I start that? 

First I take a notebook, it can be a blank one or it can be a used one, doesn’t matter, as long as there are still empty pages. 

On each page, I write down the header or the title or the question, essentially the thesis of my idea. Each one of my ideas gets a page or two. I then leave space for me to fill in the details later. I write down as many as I have or as much as the book can fit. Basically, this will be a book of writing prompts. 

Test Your Ideas 

So here’s the fun part. Now I have this small book of ideas with blank spaces for me to expand on it, to start working on it, to start testing out these ideas and see if there is any substance in it. Or if I’m even passionate about the topic.

My goal now is that each day, or once a week or whatever, I will open up to an idea. Next one in line, and start working on it. Here’s a rule: I have to work in order, I can’t go picking my favourite idea to work on at any given time. If I simply flip to a page I want to work on at the moment, I lose the discipline I need to tackle a larger project, especially if it’s a project on that topic. I have to be committed to going through the book in a respectful order. That way I can give each idea a chance. 

I have a page or two to get everything I need about the idea, it can be an outline, it can be the first few paragraphs, however, I approach it, by the end, I should be able to recognize whether this idea has legs. I can transition it into a bigger project, merge it into a work in progress, or I can move on to the next idea in the book. 

I find this to be a great writing exercise and a fantastic way to understand how I feel about my ideas. Most importantly, in the end, I will have a full book of ideas pursued and not simply a brain filled with them. I have something I can actually use whether it can be a part of a bigger project or simply a brainstorming exercise. 

Give this a shot. Let me know what you think. 

If you found this article helpful, please consider signing up for my mailing list. You won’t receive emails from me often, but when you do, it’ll include only work that I’m most proud of.