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Writing Tip: How to Remember What You Want to Write

Updated on September 20, 2016
Glenn Stok profile image

In addition to applying his education, experience and professional background to his writing, Glenn Stok also shares tips for other authors.

A discussion for writers about the creative process of writing in your head and how to remember it to use later.

There are two parts to this discussion. Both are related to being more productive with your writing.

  1. In the first section I discuss how to make better use of thoughts that come up when you don’t have the opportunity to type or write your thoughts as they occur.
  2. The second section focuses on productively using your creative thoughts when you can't sleep.

Sometimes I find myself composing an entire article word for word in my mind. But I still have to recall it later to type it in.
Sometimes I find myself composing an entire article word for word in my mind. But I still have to recall it later to type it in. | Source

How often do you plan an article in your head and hope to remember it later when you can type it into your computer?

Sometimes I have an idea for an article and I find myself planning the entire thing, word for word, in my mind. I call that a Brain Draft, but I need to get that into the computer.

When I finally sit down to write, sometimes I can't remember the best of what came up in my mind the first time. Sometimes it's better, but other times I lose precious thoughts that don't come to me a second time around.

It happens, and you probably do it too. Don't you? You can’t type it up at the moment, but an idea is forming in your head, and you even compose the words and sentences in your mind.

When this happens to me, I sometimes catch myself and ask, “What am I doing? Do I actually believe I’m going to be able to type up the same text word for word when I finally do sit down at my computer?”

Remembering Ideas for Articles You Want to Write

A Brain Draft

Remembering what I wanted to write isn't easy.  I know it's going to come out differently when I get around to typing it.
Remembering what I wanted to write isn't easy. I know it's going to come out differently when I get around to typing it. | Source

When I think of something I want to write an article about, remembering later what I wanted to write isn’t easy.

I know it’s going to come out differently when I finally get around to typing it, compared to when I first thought the words and sentences in my mind.

So when I realize I’m composing an article in my head, I want to stop myself because I feel I’ll just lose the memory of my “brain draft” anyway.

When I compose a brain draft, I really like what I come up with. That’s why I do it when the thoughts strike me.

I’m not going to force myself to not think about it just because I’m not near my computer. But I also try not to compose every detail of the actual text since I know there is no way I’ll repeat it the same way later.

Too bad I can’t just download that text from my brain draft to my computer. Imagine if someday in the distant future that becomes possible!

Anyway, I know I’m going to have to reconstruct the entire thing all over again at my computer and I’m afraid all the good stuff is going to come out differently. Is this a bad thing? Maybe it ends up being even better.

What is a Brain Draft?

All writers start with creative thinking. When you find yourself stuck with writer's block, what's really happening is that you are stuck with thinking. When that energy starts to flow in your mind and you find yourself composing an article, essay, or whatever -- the flow continues without effort.

The problem is that we may not be ready when that creative thinking energy starts to happen, and we find ourselves composing in our heads, as a brain draft.

I believe brain drafts are common for writers who always are thinking of things to write about. We might do it when we are driving, or traveling on a train or plane. It may even happen while getting a haircut.

Maybe the barber is chatting with you and you’re not free to think in your own mind because of the conversation. However, if you are left free to dwell in your own concentration, your creative juices might be flowing and a brain draft is created.

Getting Maximum Productivity From a Brain Draft

Sometimes it comes out even better the second time around, when finally typing it.
Sometimes it comes out even better the second time around, when finally typing it. | Source

When I find myself composing a brain draft, I try not to get too involved in the actual sentences of my article. If I let myself go, I can really get into this, knowing full well that I will never remember the actual text as I composed it in my head.

Therefore I avoid using fully involved sentences. I just think in terms of the points I want to make. Then I know I can always elaborate on those points later when I’m actually typing up my article.

I find that I shouldn’t wait too long. I may forget the major part of the idea behind my article. I may not get a chance to get to my computer the same day, but the sooner the better.

Then when I am in front of the keyboard, I start by typing up short sentences to bring back the ideas I came up with. These sentences may turn out to be the subtitles for sections of the article.

Once I feel I got all those segments typed in, I begin to type the text for each section. I usually never do compose it with the same text I had in my brain draft. That’s gone. Nevertheless, sometimes I feel it comes out even better when I finally type it, since it’s the second time around that the thoughts are flowing through my head.

That works for writing any article, not just transcribing a brain draft. Every time I re-read one of my articles, I think of better ways to say things. This is a worthwhile thing to do with existing articles. It helps to improve them further.

It may feel like double effort, drafting in your mind and finally redoing it for real, but it’s worth it. You are constantly empowering your creative thinking to compose something new. Now you know how to make it more productive.

Using Your Creative Thoughts

When You Can't Sleep

When your mind is full of thoughts while trying to fall asleep, some of the best ideas may come to the surface. Insomnia can actually be a stimulus for writing.

It's obvious to me that when I am calmly lying in bed waiting to doze off, my mind has the opportunity to start becoming creative. Many times when I'm trying to fall asleep, the most useful ideas pop into my head. Do you find this happening to you? If so, you should take advantage of it.

I don't understand why this is, but that doesn't matter. What matters is, to make use of that creativity rather than lose it. So many times I would let my mind get into all this creative stuff while falling asleep, but then I couldn't remember a thing the next morning.

If I don't get up and do something about it right then and there, I would have a lot of trouble recreating what I thought about the night before.

Put your active mind to work when you can't sleep. Get up and write about those thoughts that are keeping you awake.
Put your active mind to work when you can't sleep. Get up and write about those thoughts that are keeping you awake. | Source

So what about you?

When you have a lot of activity going on in your creative mind, it may indeed keep you awake at night. However, this energy can be put to good use.

You're tired, but you're still thinking and coming up with all sorts of creative thoughts. You continue to lie there in bed thinking all those deep thoughts, only to forget them in the morning.

Why not take advantage of it? You can make use of your overactive mind by using those thoughts as writing prompts. You need to get up and write an article with it.

Creative Writing During Sleepless Nights

I find that when this happens to me, not being able to sleep, but thinking a mile a minute, I tend to be more creative when I get up and sit down at the computer to write. Those wonderful thoughts are fresh in my mind and I get it typed into the computer.

I don't need to be concerned about typos or grammar, which can be cleaned up another day when I'm wide awake. Just getting it typed and saved is all that's important. It may just be a series of short prompts, snippets to use for an entire article to be competed later.

Many times these snippets of thoughts that come in the middle of the night are extremely useful. When I review them during the day, I find precious gems that I don't seem to create when I'm rested and awake. I believe the reason for this is that I am too tired to censor myself. Therefore, my mind is free to let the entire deep emotional thoughts come out.

A Tired Mind Can Dream Up Some Fascinating Content

I think the best creative ideas for what to write are those that come from the active tired mind.

When our mind is active and keeping us awake when we are trying to fall asleep, we are usually thinking creatively. This creative thinking is useful for composing articles that we have in the back of our mind, even if we are extremely tired.

Our mind dwells on so many unrelated things that keep us awake when we are trying to fall asleep.
Our mind dwells on so many unrelated things that keep us awake when we are trying to fall asleep. | Source

As I mentioned earlier, due to this extreme tiredness we don’t censor our thoughts as well. Therefore I think we can take advantage of that by letting the juices flow and write an article from all that mental activity.

The only problem I foresee is that by the time you actually are ready to publish it, after you've proofread it and corrected all the spelling and grammar errors, you may take a second look at it and say to yourself, “Am I kidding? I’m not going to publish that!”

This happens because you were too tired to censor what you were composing during those sleepless sessions.

It's too bad we have a desire to change our mind when we proofread with our daytime brain focusing and censoring. That stuff that we wrote is what dreams are made of. Are we just going to throw it away?

When that happens, I just stop and sit on it for a while. I leave it alone and every once in a while I go back to it.

With a different frame of mind I rework it, but just a little. I wouldn't want to lose the essence of what came from the uncensored mind that dreamed up those thoughts while I was tired. Therefore, I just make the necessary changes to clean up the grammar and make sure everything is clear to the reader.

I don't delete, and I don't try to rework it into something I feel more comfortable with. After all, what comes out of my tired mind when I have insomnia is precious, and so is yours. Keep that in mind the next time you can't sleep and you're mind is racing with dozens of thoughts.

© 2014 Glenn Stok


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    • Beth Eaglescliffe profile image

      Beth Eaglescliffe 3 years ago from UK

      I think brain-drafting is an essential part of creative writing (and also any other inventive activity). If the mind is relaxed and in "free-fall" mode, that's when eureka moments can occur. I find that doing a monotonous chore frees my mind to start composing my next article or story.

    • Glenn Stok profile image

      Glenn Stok 3 years ago from Long Island, NY

      Beth - Yes I know what you mean. When I'm involved in doing something monotonous, that's one of the times I find myself composing an article, only wishing I was in front of a keyboard. I like your words for it… "free-fall mode" and "eureka moments." Thanks for commenting.

    • brakel2 profile image

      Audrey Selig 3 years ago from Oklahoma City, Oklahoma

      Hi Glen This happens to me all the time. Sometimes, if another writer is around, we start brainstorming the ideas. That is very helpful, and usually easy to remember. I sometimes dictate from my mind, and that helped with several hubs, but not when it involves much research. I guess we all have different ways, but I do have the brain draft. It is better when I write it down or type it soon. Sometimes it is different and maybe better. Great article. Thanks for sharing. Blessings, Audrey Sharing

    • Glenn Stok profile image

      Glenn Stok 3 years ago from Long Island, NY

      brakel2 - Thanks for your comment Audrey. I had always been wondering if I'm the only one this happens to. The way you describe your experience, it sounds like it has the same effect with you as it does with you. The need to get it typed soon and the fact that it sometimes turns out better. As for research, I agree. Brain drafts only work with articles for which we already have everything in our heads.

    • ResearchBeast profile image

      Online Research Beast 3 years ago

      That's a great name for the concept. I definitely get them the time. These days it's a good thing we have smartphones as we can just record a note or jot it down. In fact, I use Evernote which resides on the cloud so when I put my ideas on my smartphone (in Evernote) it's syncs automatically with any other devices I work with.

      I also used to write music and one evening I woke up with just about a complete song composed. It was 4 in the morning and I just had to get up and capture it to make sure I didn't lose it.

      This is a great hubpage. Thanks for sharing.

    • MsDora profile image

      Dora Isaac Weithers 3 years ago from The Caribbean

      The bad thing is that when I finally put it on I paper, I am still wondering if I had something better in the brain draft. We just have to keep on creating and re-creating. Great article, Glenn. Thank you.

    • Glenn Stok profile image

      Glenn Stok 3 years ago from Long Island, NY

      ResearchBeast - Looks like you have the problem solved by using your smartphone. Syncing with your other devices is helpful. I'm a little skeptical about putting my unpublished work in the cloud however. That means it's on an unknown server and available to who know whom. But that's just my opinion. Thanks of your interesting comment.

    • Glenn Stok profile image

      Glenn Stok 3 years ago from Long Island, NY

      MsDora - That's always my worry too. But as you said, we must march on with our creating and re-creating.

    • Victoria Lynn profile image

      Vicki L Hodges 3 years ago from Arkansas, USA

      Glenn, I've never heard it called this, but I've done what you've described. It really does help. I've outlined articles and written letters or emails in my mind to transpose to paper or computer later. What a neat hub! Oh, and on my winter hub, I DO use real snow to make snow ice cream. I revised the hub to make that clear. LOL!

    • Glenn Stok profile image

      Glenn Stok 3 years ago from Long Island, NY

      Victoria - It's interesting how thinking the article through in your mind can be used later. I glad to see you tried it. And now that you mention it, I do that with emails too sometimes. I'll check out your winter hub again.

    • Nell Rose profile image

      Nell Rose 3 years ago from England

      Yes I tend to get the brain draft when I am out sitting in the park, these days I always take a notebook with me just in case! lol! yes it's a good idea to try to catch those few phrases that we can then use as titles for example as you said, sometimes when it gets down on the pc its better, but sometimes I get really frustrated when I find that its not got the same power if you like when I write it, sadly! lol!

    • billybuc profile image

      Bill Holland 3 years ago from Olympia, WA

      I think this is common with many creative writers, Glenn. I find myself doing this most of the time. An idea will come and I'll write it in my head while doing something else. It has become important for me, though, to have a notebook nearby so I can jot down key points if a computer is not handy. Anyway, great points here.

    • Glenn Stok profile image

      Glenn Stok 3 years ago from Long Island, NY

      billybuc - Thanks for telling me about your own experience Bill. I'm finding it interesting to see that other writers do a similar thing.

    • Zainab Tarawali profile image

      Musu Bangura 3 years ago from Nation's Capital

      Interesting! It happens to me all the time, but to see an actual hub about it is just great. I have so many articles drafted in my brain I try to jot things down right away but still have a hard time retrieving everything later. Thanks for sharing. Voting up!

    • Glenn Stok profile image

      Glenn Stok 3 years ago from Long Island, NY

      Zainab Tarawali - I try to write things down as soon as I can too, because just like you, I also have more and more trouble retrieving it as time goes by. Thanks for the vote up,

    • Writer Fox profile image

      Writer Fox 2 years ago from the wadi near the little river

      Instead of recording it in your brain, try recording your ideas on your cell phone and then transcribing them later.

    • Glenn Stok profile image

      Glenn Stok 2 years ago from Long Island, NY

      Writer Fox - That works sometimes. Problem is that there are also times when I don't have that option -- Such as sitting in a train thinking the script of a potential article, or laying in bed trying to fall asleep but thinking of an article to write instead. Of course in that case I should get out of bed and record it. Or better yet, just go on the computer and type it up before I spend time thinking it through in my head. Thanks for the suggestion. I do have to remind myself that I do have that option too.

    • RachaelOhalloran profile image

      Rachael O'Halloran 2 years ago from United States

      Brain fog is an everyday occurrence for me and I am always looking for ways to keep information handy for retrieval. Even with written notes, which are usually only minimally referred to, as you found too, I glance at the original idea in the note, start typing and a one paragraph note can become two to three pages of text. It is in this way that stuff comes out better the second time around. This a good hub.

    • Glenn Stok profile image

      Glenn Stok 2 years ago from Long Island, NY

      RachaelOhalloran - Thanks for that clear explanation of the method of expanding on our notes. I find the same thing happen sometimes when I type a comment on someones hub. I find myself typing so much at times that I decide to limit it in the comment and use what I started typing to expand into an article.

    • Debby Bruck profile image

      Debby Bruck 2 years ago

      Hi Glenn. Fabulous concept and it appears many of us have that "conversation" in our head as ideas, concepts, stories, Hubs begin to form within the creative brain cells. Like Writer Fox, when I realize this is happening, I grab my cellphone and turn on the recorder. That makes it easy to transcribe later. However, if we're talking about capturing dream notes, those are much harder to recall and it typically never comes out as great as in your imagination. Plus, lots of details and segments of the dream are missing. Great Hub! Blessings, Debby

    • Glenn Stok profile image

      Glenn Stok 2 years ago from Long Island, NY

      Hi Debby - Recording for later transcription is definitely the way to go. At least it gets saved in a form that can be used without losing it. I read Writer Fox too - great Hubber. As for dreams, one can always add more from a conscious level later. Something can still be salvaged from dreams. I have a hub on that too. Thanks for your thoughts on this.

    • Sherry Hewins profile image

      Sherry Hewins 2 years ago from Sierra Foothills, CA

      That happens to me a lot in the car. I agree with you about not waiting too long though. I call it catching lightening in a bottle, you've got to get it before it's gone.

    • Glenn Stok profile image

      Glenn Stok 2 years ago from Long Island, NY

      Sherry Hewins - Interesting analogy, lightening in a bottle. There's a lot of meaning behind that. Not only do you have to catch it before it's gone, but your analogy also implies the power within it. We definitely don't want to lose those thoughts that can become the next great hub.

    • FlourishAnyway profile image

      FlourishAnyway 2 years ago from USA

      Yes! I have this experience, too. The article, poem or work almost writes itself. It's a great term you use here.

    • Glenn Stok profile image

      Glenn Stok 2 years ago from Long Island, NY

      FlourishAnyway - That's right! I feel it almost writes itself too. Wouldn't it be great if we could connect our brain to the computer to transcribe? The term "brain draft" took me a while to think of.

    • Arachnea profile image

      Tanya Jones 2 years ago from Texas USA

      Great hub. The article made me think of Method of Loci. I may not be able to compose a complete article in my head, but I enjoy the exercise of drafting the outline as I drive down the road.

    • Glenn Stok profile image

      Glenn Stok 2 years ago from Long Island, NY

      Arachnea - I can't compose an entire article in my head either without forgetting much of what I created. Sometime I even forget an outline if all I did was think about it. It's good you can do it, but keep your eyes on the road.

    • AudreyHowitt profile image

      Audrey Howitt 2 years ago from California

      Spot on. I do this all the time. So does my husband, who does a lot of composing. I have learned to carry a notebook with me. I find that helps!

    • mdscoggins profile image

      Michelle Scoggins 2 years ago from Fresno, CA

      Thanks Glenn great article. I find myself creating 'brain drafts' often and mostly when I am not near a computer or pen and pad. It is interesting though, our brains are exceptionally creative, yet when we try to get it out of our brains the many psychological filters take hold and often stifle that creativity. That is why free writing is great for creativity since all rules are thrown out - no worries about grammar, sentence structure, or any other binding rule that may become a thief of originality. All-in-all thanks for letting me know that I am not a weirdo that has random thoughts of the next written masterpiece pop in my mind at the most inappropriate times. Have a great weekend :)

    • Glenn Stok profile image

      Glenn Stok 2 years ago from Long Island, NY

      AudreyHowitt - So you know what it's like. Our minds are constantly creating, and we really need to have a way to record the creations. Carrying a notebook is important, unless one has a smartphone he or she can type notes into.

    • Glenn Stok profile image

      Glenn Stok 2 years ago from Long Island, NY

      mdscoggins - Wow! You explained that really well. That's really what is going on for me too, much of the time. I'm filtering as I write. Not good. I should follow your method and not worry about perfection during the writing stage, then clean it up after I get it out of my brain and onto paper (I mean - into the computer). :-)

    • Sharp Points profile image

      Sharp Points 23 months ago from Big Bear Lake, California

      Very interesting topic. I find myself "brain drafting" in all areas of my life as well, not just writing. Like you mentioned a big problem for me is how much detail i think about when doing this. Although we rarely recall anything word for word, it seems like a good practice in general for a creative mind. If an idea is good enough, you just have to find a way to get it on paper. Great hub!

    • Glenn Stok profile image

      Glenn Stok 23 months ago from Long Island, NY

      Sharp Points - Thanks for your comment. You hit the nail on the head. The biggest problem is remembering the details of what we think about if we're not writing it down immediately when we think about it. I know I lose a lot of good ideas that pop into my head and then forgotten. That's how I came up with the idea for this hub. Glad you found it interesting.

    • B. Leekley profile image

      Brian Leekley 3 weeks ago from Kalamazoo, Michigan, USA

      If you always have a pen or pencil in your shirt pocket and scratch paper in your back pocket, you can very quickly capture your ideas for an article by jotting key words (or sketching images that symbolize your concepts) into a Tony Buzan mind map.

    • Glenn Stok profile image

      Glenn Stok 3 weeks ago from Long Island, NY

      That true Brian, but as I discussed in this article, you can't reproduce the same lengthy text that comes into your mind the first time just by making notes or quick drawings for memory ticklers. To understand what I'm saying, here's an analogy. It's equivalent to typing a long article and suddenly losing your data because of a hard drive crash. See my point?

    • Venkatachari M profile image

      Venkatachari M 3 weeks ago from Hyderabad, India

      This is a wonderful topic, Glenn. It happens with almost all writers, I hope.

      My ideas and thoughts come when I am in my toilet or while taking bath. At times, it comes during my cooking time also. I can't get to the computer always. So, I try to write down some points on a piece of paper or notebook whenever I get free during those occasions. That way, I try to save my ideas and build my articles. Your last point is also true. Sometimes, you realize that some of those thoughts can't be put on the keyboard as they are. You have to make it more sensible and to the point.

      Thanks for sharing this wise information and useful advice.

    • Glenn Stok profile image

      Glenn Stok 3 weeks ago from Long Island, NY

      Venkatachari - Exactly my point! You got what I was saying. Sometimes we tend to draft an entire article in our head while doing something else when we just can't type or even write on a notepad.

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