What to do when an idea strikes and you can’t write?

September 16, 2010

While I was running this week, I came up with an awesome idea for an ebook.

I typed furiously as soon as I got home, trying to get the idea in all of its pieces onto my computer before it escaped from my brain. Now I’m eager to work on this project, to flesh it out while my idea-energy is flowing.

Except I’m going to be in the car this entire weekend. I’m driving down to Georgia for my writer’s residency at Hambidge, and that means a good 15 hours behind the wheel.

Playing guitar while driving

Almost as bad as writing while driving. (CCL photo credit: Shannon Simbulan)

So I’m planning to try something different. I’m going to bring my digital recorder — the one I used to stick in the middle of reporter scrums — and talk to it during my drive south. I’m thinking I’ll be able to at least capture the essence of what I want to write, and I can transcribe it when I have time.

Has anybody else used this audio recorder method? Did it work for you? I’m such a visual creator — I like to see my words on the page — that I imagine my brain will process differently when I speak my ideas.

How do you save your ideas when you can’t write?

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    10 Replies to “What to do when an idea strikes and you can’t write?”

    • Lanham True says:

      I’ve done the digital recorder thing while driving, & it can work, absolutely. Just prepare for the playback — hearing yourself rambling like an idiot can be a deflating experience!

      • Alexis Grant says:


        I remember hearing about some writer — I think it was @Al_Humphreys — who kept lots of journals while he was traveling, and mailed them home to himself. When he got back, he found — to both his amazement and his horror — that his mother had transcribed them all for him! That one made me laugh.

      • Gargi says:

        I agree with Lanham, had a similar experience. Listening to yourself blabbering on is quite disconcerting, and somehow I feel I write better than I talk, so I always came away disappointed with my recordings.

    • Jennifer says:

      I used to have a phone that had video recording and I’d turn it on and talk into it. I’ve missed having it a few times while driving and an amazing idea hits me out of the blue. I usually chant the idea over and over until I get home, or I pull out a napkin and pen and write (carefully!!!) a bit at a time while driving slowly. I don’t recommend that tactic by the way, but it works!

    • I find that my voice is much different out loud than my written voice. I’ve tried to use dictation programs and don’t like how my voice sounds. But then should you’re outloud voice sound like your written voice? I would hope that at some point they become similar.

    • Andi says:

      My brilliant ideas ALWAYS come to me when I’m exercising. I should start bringing paper & a pen with my when I go to the gym I think. On your ride to GA are you stopping through NC???

    • I’m extremely visual too, but I find that audio recorders are a great stopgap measure. While you might find that you don’t articulate your ideas as well as you would on paper, you’ll get the important stuff down and you can finesse them later. If you like to listen to music when you run, using an iPhone (or similar gizmo) is great because it has a voice memo function. Though I’ve never used it yet on a run, it’s nice to know it’s there.

      So yeah, get those ideas down however you can. It’s worth cringing at the sound of your own voice.

    • This very problem arose as I was driving on a highway the other day. I used my cell phone to call my home phone and left myself a message! Because I said it out loud, I found I actually didn’t need to listen to it when I got home.

      That residency sounds so cool! I poked around their web site but would love to hear more about it – how you found it, why you go, what you get out of it, who you meet.

      And, are you making a pit stop in DC either way? Would love to see you!

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