When I first started writing, I tried to jot down pretty much every idea that came to mind – characters, bits of dialogue, a story idea, rhyme, you name it. Unfortunately, although I was in the habit of carrying a pen at nearly all times, I rarely kept a notebook handy. So I wound up with piles of receipts or gum wrappers or whatever was available when inspiration struck. Also, my handwriting is nearly unreadable (one of my professors said it resembled Hittite. AFAIK, Hittite has never been deciphered).
So I got more disciplined. I invested in a notebook (small, with a durable plastic cover) that I carried in my purse. However I’d frequently misplace said notebook (often under a pile of papers or books) and so I bought a few more so I’d always have one close by.
You can see where this is going, right?
I’d write down random snippets and then forget which notebook I’d put it in (and as the pages filled up, where in the notebook I’d written it). Worse, half the time I’d nix the idea altogether, delete the scene a particular line had been written for, or decide that no, I was never going to get around to that novel about an alien landing on Earth during the Viking era or that semi-autobiographical story of a person landing in Guyana in the aftermath of the Jonestown massacre. Of the ones that remained, for about half of them I’d waste half an hour puzzling wtf was I thinking at the handful of words that, at the time, I’d been convinced was a stroke of genius. Provided I went back and read any notes at all while I revising any particular story.
Finally, I decided, keeping notes was largely a waste of time. The best ideas seemed to stick in my memory regardless. Only on one single occasion among the dozens of stories I’ve worked on do I regret forgetting to jot down something. It was a Terry Pratchett-type pun for a YA Fantasy I’ve been working on. Oh, well.
That isn’t to say the habit is entirely useless. Nowadays, I try to limit what I bother jotting down to either premises that I could hang an entire story and characters onto (and wouldn’t involve a solid year of research), or plot points I’ve been struggling over on nearly-completed works.
There are also times when I am bombarded with so many ideas I cannot concentrate on the task in front of me, whether it’s a writing project or making sure the bills get paid. On those days I feel like Hwel from Terry Pratchett’s Wyrd Sisters:
Particles of raw inspiration sleet through the universe all the time. Every once in a while one of them hits a receptive mind, which then invents DNA or the flute sonata form or a way of making light bulbs wear out in half the time. But most of them miss. Most people go through their lives without being hit by even one.
Some people are even more unfortunate. They get them all.
Writing the lot of them down (even if it never goes further than a notepad document) clears the proverbial clutter in my mind so I can get on with whatever project at hand.
And eventually one of them becomes a blog post on WordPress.