Wednesday, February 11, 2009

30-Day Marketing Challenge: Organizing your story ideas

Today, I talked to a coaching client who's brimming with ideas, but not with the time to pursue all of them. "I get these great ideas," she said, "but if I don't write them down right away, they're gone."

Such a common problem, and there are lots of solutions:

Start a file.
Freelancer Trish Lawrence had a great blog post last week on keeping track of all those brilliant ideas. Mostly, she suggests starting an individual file for an individual idea. This can trump the one big file labeled IDEAS easily. After all, such files can become crammed and disorganized fast--and who wants to root through that file when you have just 10 minutes to get some marketing done? Not me.

I have files for specific story ideas ("addiction and yoga"), as well as files for general topics ("mindfulness studies"). When I find a particularly great article or study, I can place it in the file for future reference.

Carry a notebook.
This is an old technique for fiction writers, but it's easily applicable for inventive journalists. Keeping a small notebook in your purse or back pocket can allow you to jot down ideas for stories on the fly and then go on with your day. Give it a shot: You can get a notebook from the local drugstore for $1.50. I even got a mini pen when I bought a full-size one. Hook the two together and you're ready to write right away.

Move it to your hard drive.
One of my big tasks in business is to declutter my desk. When I went through my stack of papers last year, I found that more than two-thirds of the loose paper on my desk were reports and studies that piqued my interest and about which I thought I might want to write.

The problem? They were laying around and hadn't made it to a file yet--mostly because I hadn't had time to create a file. My solution was to scan those docs and store them in subject-area files on my external hard drive. Now, if I want to look up what I have on PTSD, all I have to do is click on the search function for my hard drive. No more rooting around files that clutter up my desk.

Let the Internet file it for you.
Now that I've gone paperless, I don't need a file on my desk, and I don't need to store PDFs on my external drive. So how do I organize story ideas? My web browser became quickly overwhelmed when I tried to bookmark every interesting article on my home computer.

The solution? de.lic.ious.

This social bookmarking site is brilliant. You can add de.lic.ious buttons for your browser's menu bar: one that allows you to save a page and tag it, and one that takes you directly to your bookmarks. When I find a story, a source's online bio or other page that stimulates my querying brain, I can just click a button and tag it.

I organize my tags in two ways:
  • By topic: I have tags, for instance, for "healthcare," "mentalhealth," and "pregnancy" (tags must be one word, so you have to lump them together)
  • By market: If I know I want to pitch the story to a particular publication, I add the pubs' abbreviation as a tag (for instance, "chron" for the San Francisco Chronicle).
One thing to keep in mind is that these tags are public, so don't save anything there for your Super Secret Perfect Pitch. But for run-of-the-mill story generation, it's a great tool.

How do you keep your story ideas straight?

Photo by shadytrees.

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