The single most important rule when generating ideas

I had a great idea for a topic for this week's blog post. Believe me: it was a really good idea. The information I was going to share was pure brilliance. It might even have gone viral. But it won't now. Unfortunately, I can't share this idea with you ... because I have no idea what it was.

If there's one golden rule I've learnt in my career as a writer, and even before that in business, it is this:

If you have a good idea, capture it now. Immediately. Straight away.

Otherwise it will likely disappear into the ether.

Unfortunately, even though I know this rule – and the risks of ignoring it – all too well, I still forget it from time to time. And virtually every time I do, another great idea evaporates. It doesn't matter how well formed the idea seems to be at the time it arrives; it doesn't matter how absolutely positive I am that I'll never forget the thought. If I don't capture it at the time, nine times out of ten it simply isn't there when I go back to retrieve it.

Now, this could just be me. Or it could be that I'm no spring chicken any longer. But anecdotally I don't think either of those is the issue here. Many others, old and young, report a similar phenomenon.

Great ideas are fleeting, fickle, fragile conceptions that don't take on any real form until they have been – to be brutal about it – locked up and chained down. The 4 am idea is perhaps the most volatile, but even a lunchtime idea can be vulnerable, especially on a busy day.

And this applies whether you are harvesting ideas for a book or building up a list of blog topics. It also applies to non-writing areas: rounding up marketing or new product ideas, maintaining a list of books you want to read or remembering what you need to pack for an upcoming holiday.

How you capture your ideas doesn't matter ... as long as it happens. I've caught ideas on scraps of paper, as voice recordings, as text messages or emails to myself. I've sometimes captured ideas fully formed, sometimes as single sentences and occasionally as one-word prompts. These days the notes apps on my smartphone do most of my remembering for me.

Over the years I've harnessed many more ideas than I've actually used, but that doesn't matter. I happen to believe that ideas breed ideas so a captured thought today will often lead to something bigger and better tomorrow.

One thing is for sure: a captured idea is better than no idea at all.

As usual, if you have any questions or comments, please contact me directly, via our Facebook page or in the comments below.

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