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.

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