My “Idea Museum”

A couple weeks ago, I was in my basement looking for a book – my Philip K. Dick short story collection – because I wanted to read his piece, “We Can Remember It for You Wholesale,” on which the movie Total Recall was based. We moved into our house about three years ago, so I was looking for a specific box of books that haven’t found a home yet.

While looking, as most people I know do when they are going through their basement, I got distracted. There’s a corner of the basement filled with pages and folders and boxes that I like to think of as my “idea museum.” For years (um, decades), I have jotted ideas onto random pieces of paper, cocktail napkins, receipts, in journals, on my hand; called and left myself voicemails; sent e-mails; tried a recording device for a while… The ideas (or transcriptions of them) from over the years seem to collect in an area that is part memory lane and part inspiration.

I’m a little more technical, of course, in my approach now: there’s a website I use called that is fantastic – stores all of your thoughts, ideas, manuscripts and anything else in a Google-secure place that you can access from anywhere (including your smartphone). It’s gotten me away from slips of paper all over the place and is a great central location for every random thought that crosses my brain on a daily basis.

But it’s still a lot of fun to pull out the old notebooks and see where my mind was. I’ve written six novel manuscripts now, and the first four are in the idea museum (the first few are godawful by my own admission!). But in searching I also found:

  • The original opening to a crime novel I wrote, set in Niagara Falls, BORDER TROUBLES, which was taking the story in a 100% different direction than it ended up!
  • A handful of tattered, yellow legal pad pages on which I hand wrote back in the mid-’90s the opening scene of a screenplay I intended to title “Pirates of the Caribbean.” (this is the one that I hope that my kids someday auction off from my estate for millions!). Even though I didn’t have a hand in the version that Disney ultimately created, the Turner family did play a substantial role in it. So it all comes full-circle!
  • A floppy disk (yep!) titled “Quentin Novel,” which I believe – I can’t check! – has on it only a possible beginning scene of another crime novel I wrote, A MATTER OF PRINCIPLE, set in New York’s Southern Tier that, yes, I believed would ultimately be turned into a Quentin Tarantino movie (pie-in-the-sky dreams are an important part of establishing an idea museum).
  • My children’s book series about bugs, “In My Backyard,” that I’m still going to publish someday.
  • A piece of paper that says, “Novel about I-95.” Going to have to spend some time in the recesses of my memory on that one!

Ideas aren’t just about writing – they’re about business, art, music, new products, innovation, anything! Especially with the technology available to us, I’m always looking for good methods of organization, so…

How do you collect ideas for future reference?