Saturday, February 11, 2017

Keeping Your Story Ideas In a Journal

The question many authors, myself included, get tired of hearing from people is “Where do you get your ideas?” Neil Gaiman said in a talk that Harlan Ellison used to answer the question by saying he “gets them from a little idea shop . . . .” In this same interview Neil said that he knew a writer who said he gets his ideas “from the idea of the month club.” 

My answer to that question: Life. That’s what all art is based on in one sense or another, life as the artist sees it. The ideas come from the artist’s own experiences, including the books that have influenced him or her. Each of us, writers and non-writers, has a story behind us. Our entire lives are stories. But not everyone is inclined to write their life stories down whether for their own personal records or for an audience. But even us writers are prone to forgetting when great ideas and impressions come to us, and so we carry a journal with us everywhere we go.

Some of the most popular and creative story tellers such as director/screen writer Guillermo del Toro carry journals with them. There’s a good article up at Comic Book Resources ( about his Pan’s Labyrinth in commemoration of its 10 year anniversary. But there are a couple points where the article discusses how del Toro kept a journal of drawn sketches as well as written notes of ideas he would develop for his film.

I keep two journal booklets. I keep a larger one at home that’s about six-by-four inches and a smaller one in my backpack for when I’m away from the house. Most of the contents in these are handwritten notes though I’ll do a quick sketch of an image if an idea is easier to draw out and I’m in the middle of writing an entry and don’t want to run to get my sketch book or if I’m not home. The sketch book is for drawing concepts, many of which I use for my book cover illustrations as you’ve seen in past posts. I always title my entries, especially if they contain story ideas, so it’s easier to find them when I’m ready to start writing a new story. But even if the entry isn’t one that’s intended for a story but is maybe of an experience I went through during the day, I will give it a descriptive title any way so when I am looking for a story idea I can find it more easily.

A pencil sketch of a giant goddess statue with a corpse's face.
A concept sketch for the "Circa Sixty Years Dead" book cover from my sketch book.

Some authors will start writing their stories in their journals a chapter or section at a time. That works for when ideas for a single story come as time goes by. For myself, however, ideas for a single story don’t come that quickly. However, if I leave off working on a story for the day and then later an idea for it comes to me, then I’ll write it down in my journal to refer to it next time.

Do you keep a journal for your story ideas? What manner do you utilize that journal? How do you organize your entries?

Do you find your favourite authors’ journals as interesting as their published stories?

Until next time . . .  

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