What wakes you up in the middle of the night? A crying baby? Perhaps a thunder storm or a cat sitting on your head? Commonly being woken up in the middle of the night is not something I look forward to. It is stressful and annoying.
But every once in a while I find myself being awoken in the middle of the night for a different reason, inspiration. My brain is so pumped about something that I am stirred awake and given the chance to see an idea or a thought.
Inspiration usually hits at the strangest times, and those times are probably not when you are sitting in front of a screen ready to capture it. It usually wakes you up in the middle of night or strikes while you are standing in line at the bank. And it takes on some familiar form. It could be a missing piece to your plot puzzle, a new idea for a novel or a flavorful blog post topic that will drop in your lap at a moment’s notice.
And when it does it is important to recognize it for what it is, capture it as best you can and hopefully act on the idea (for better or worse). Here are some ways that you can do that.
If you find yourself in bed when a brilliant idea comes, I find it useful to keep a pad of paper and a pen on my nightstand. Even in a world where everyone takes notes on a phone, a simple pad and paper is ideal when it is 3am and pitch black dark. You can quickly jot down a few notes before you roll over and fall back a sleep.
This will allow you to act on the idea at a later time, but have enough context to make it worthwhile.
Much like note taking in bed, if you happen to find yourself in a business meeting or at the store when you think of something great, then your phone probably IS the best tool for the job. Use something like OneNote or Evernote to capture your ideas and allow them to be accessible across multiple platforms.
Just having the tools to capture your inspiration is one thing, but recognizing that it needs to be captured in the first place is another. Really at the end of the day, just write it down. In your phone, on the all too cliché napkin or on the back of your hand. As long as it is a tangible idea, you can use it later when you get back into your work.
So how do you know an idea is worth capturing? I like to think that if it is anything that involves a larger piece of work, a novel or a manuscript for a play or film, anything is worth capturing. With projects of this size, you never know when a tidbit about a characters backstory or an idea on how your protagonist gets out of a jam will come in handy as you write your first draft.
Even if you capture an idea and don’t use it for weeks, bank it something safe and the next time you have writer’s block, run through your list and see if anything makes sense for where your plot and characters are at.
For other projects it makes sense to be more selective. Any old idea might pull you into directions that you don’t have the time or energy for. When these ideas pop into your head it is important to approach them with caution.
Decide for yourself if the idea is one of 3 things: procrastination, simplification or complication. Let me explain.
Procrastination: If your idea would require a lot of extra time and research, depending on the timelines you face on the project, it may not be worth exploring.
Simplification: If the inspiration you are presented with requires you to remove a lot of content or start over, then it probably needs to either be banked for a different showcase or dropped entirely. This could cause a lot of work and distraction to your current progress.
Complication: This one is tricky, because adding detail and complexity isn’t always a bad thing. The thing you need to think about is whether or not this new idea requires a lot of rework to fit it into the current plot. This is similar to simplification, but at the same time runs counter to it. Rather than removing things that contradict the new idea, you need to expound on things a lot more to get your new idea to make sense. Sometimes this is great and works well, other times you could write yourself into a rabbit hole many times over.
At the end of the day, you need to do what is best for the project you are working on. There is nothing wrong with inspiration and certainly nothing wrong with having a bank of ideas that you can use down the road, in fact it is a great method to curb writer’s block. Just put on your thinking cap and self-filter the ideas as they come in to make sure that the essence of the projects are taken into account. Just because an idea exists, doesn’t make it the right road to travel.
😉 Ian and the Wordwraiths