Too many writing ideas at once

Question: How do you write down ideas when they come quickly, and sometimes all at once? They also tend to be the whole story played out as a movie; I can't write them down fast enough.

Answer: This is an age-old problem faced by writers, and I'm not sure a perfect solution exists.

A famous example is Coleridge's poem "Xanadu." Coleridge claims he woke up one morning with a fully formed idea for a huge, multi-volume epic poem. He saw the entire plot laid out in his mind. On rising, he quickly started writing, but after the first page or so there was a knock at the door. By the time he finished dealing with the person at the door and returned to his desk, he found he had forgotten the rest of the story.

Some things that might help...

One of the blessings of keyboards is that they can help you record ideas faster than with a pen. If you develop your typing skills, you can get to the point where you can often type as fast as you think.

Legend has it that L. Ron Hubbard (who was a prolific pulp fiction writer before he went crazy and invented Scientology) used a special typewriter with keys for "and" and "the" to save time. He also used rolls of paper rather than single sheets, so he didn't have to waste time changing pages. He was paid by the word, and often handed in first drafts that looked like scrolls. Fortunately, computers eliminate the paper problem.

Using some form of shorthand or point form notes along with a keyboard can also speed thing up, at least in terms of outlining plot and characters.

When all else fails, you might do what J.K. Rowling did when the idea for Harry Potter came to her on a train and she had no pen or other writing tool handy.

Afraid she would forget some of the details of the story that were emerging from her imagination, she kept playing out the story in her mind over and over throughout the train trip, adding characters and other details as she went. By the time she reached her destination (and found a pen) the story had become firmly shifted into her long-term memory.

If you use this method, try to see the story in terms of pictures that are arranged in your mind spatially, like a map or timeline. Spatial arrangements are an ancient and well-established mnemonic technique, often used by students to memorize facts or dates.

Click here to post comments

Join in and submit your own question/topic! It's easy to do. How? Simply click here to return to Questions About Novel Writing.

 Step-by-Step Novel Planning Workbook

NEW! Make Money Writing Nonfiction Articles

"I've read more than fifty books on writing, writing novels, etc., but your website has the most useful and practical guidance. Now that I understand how a novel is structured, I will rewrite mine, confident that it will be a more interesting novel." - Lloyd Edwards

"Thanks to your "Create a Plot Outline in 8 Easy Steps," I was able to take a story that I simply just fooled around with and went willy nilly all over, into a clearly defined, intriguing battle where two characters fight to keep their relationship intact, and try to find a balance in control of themselves and their lives. Thanks to you, I'm not ashamed of the poor organization of my writing." - Nommanic Ragus

"I am so glad I found your site. It has helped me in so many ways, and has given me more confidence about myself and my work. Thank you for making this valuable resource, for me and my fellow writers. Perhaps you'll hear about me someday...I'll owe it to you." - Ruth, Milton, U.S.A.

"I never knew what to do with all the characters in my head, but since discovering Dramatica I am writing again in my spare time. Thank you for making this available. Yes, it is a bit complex, and it does take time, but I love it because it works." - Colin Shoeman

"I came across your website by chance. It is a plethora of knowledge, written in a simplistic way to help aspiring writers. I truly appreciate all of the information you have provided to help me successfully (relative term) write my novel. Thank you very much!" - Leo T. Rollins

"I can honestly say that this is the first website that is really helpful. You manage to answer complex questions in relatively short articles and with really intelligent answers. Thank you for taking the time to write these articles and sharing them so generously." - Chrystelle Nash

"...had no idea that a simple click would give me such a wealth of valuable information. The site not only offered extremely clear and helpful instructions but was a very enjoyable read as well. The education from your wonderful site has made me a better writer and your words have inspired me to get back to work on my novel. I wish to give you a heartfelt thanks for How to Write a Book Now, sir." -- Mike Chiero