the first step of the writing process: idea-generation

The writing process does not begin the moment you sit down to write. Before you begin to craft your first draft, you need an idea. When you complete your draft the writing process is not finished. After you craft your first draft you must edit your work. Idea-generation, drafting, and editing are separate; these three steps of the creative process don’t mix well. If you try to mix them, your process will slow considerably.


There are two ways to accomplish this step: proactively or as inspiration strikes. Either way, be purposeful about recording your ideas so that you can reference them later.

How many times have you had an idea come to you out of thin air …and then disappear as easily as it came? You need a way to record your ideas, a way to capture them so that you can use them later. The way I do this is in my personal planner.

how I never let an idea escape

I use a simple dot-grid notebook to organize my life, using the bullet journal method created by Ryder Carroll, which I have personalized and modified to fit my needs. Now that I use the bullet journal method, I’m no longer sorting though scraps of paper or random notes on my phone in search of my ideas.

The rapid-log portion of the planner provides a place to hold my brain-dumps, including any writing topics that I come up with throughout the day. Later I can further organize my ideas. I usually set aside time before bed to go over my rapid-log and plan for the next day. I also use this time to migrate any writing topic ideas into a collection so that when it comes time to write I don’t have to worry about what to write — I have a whole list of topics to draw from. That is, if I’ve had enough random inspiration to fill a whole list. Sometimes I do, but when I don’t, I fill my list by having a brainstorm session. That’s what you’re going to do today, so that you can get a head start on your own list of writing topics.

I like this two-step process of recording my ideas because when I copy an idea from the rapid log to a more permanent collection, I have the opportunity to edit it, add to it, or decide it wasn’t worth recording after all. This is important because when it comes time to write a draft, I don’t want to be making decisions about what to write. I simply write about the next thing on the list.

{today’s exercise}

Note: Over the next three days you’ll be working on three poems at the same time. At the end of today you won’t have a poem, but at the end of three days you’l have completed three poems.

Write down a dozen ideas. They don’t have to be good ideas (you can edit and refine the list later); write down anything that comes to mind. Begin by writing down something beautiful, something ugly, and something that confuses you. Let these continue to spark ideas, keeping the words flowing by writing down anything that comes to mind. Write down at least twelve potential topics before looking at my list below.

Before ending your writing session today, refine your list. Edit your ideas for clarity. Remove anything random that you don’t actually want to write about. Add any more ideas that come to mind. Make sure you’re willing to write about anything that stays on the list.

{my process}

(something beautiful) wildflowers
(something ugly) clumps of dog hair collected in the corners
(something that confuses me) how can the rain be both refreshing and destructive?
rain running down the street
gardening on a hot, humid afternoon
finding enjoyment in hard work
a dog’s dream
bare feet in the grass
mud stuck to my toes
the mailbox
open skies

Maybe you stop at twelve. Maybe your list grows longer. Whatever you do, decided on a home for your list so you’ll be able to find it when you want to add to it or draw an idea from it.