Top Navigation

The Blog Writer’s Ultimate Guide to Capturing Potent Ideas on Paper

At the heart of an entrepreneur is a curious individual. You search with your eyes open and you see. An idea sparks and your wheels turn. There is a moment of insight. This potent idea is on the tip of your mind and you need to capture it before you lose it.

There is nothing worse than losing an idea that was dripping with potential. You need a system that makes sure you capture these sparks of intuitive insight.

Paper is simple. It’s been around for ages. It’s versatile. You can grab it and work with it quickly. There is plenty of it around. It’s cheap and easy to use. For these reasons it’s a classic writer’s tool.

There is no simpler method than pen to paper for capturing your ideas. When you are out in the world, observing, writing down thoughts that occur to you is critical. Your ideas and insights are what feed your blog.

For bloggers paper is a temporary repository for their ideas. It’s a short-lived space, where you jot down your thoughts. It’s a notebook you carry in your backpack, an index card in your pocket, or the white space of a discarded envelope.

Paper is real. You can touch it. You have intimate childhood memories of working with it: folding it into little paper airplanes, drawing your first letters in school, and crinkling it into paper balls that you threw at friends. For bloggers, paper is ephemeral.

We use it to capture our idea for the short-term, then we move it into our digital workflow. We push our penned-thoughts towards publication on our blogs where these ideas will live permanently on the Internet.

Capturing your ideas, without loss, requires a systematic approach. Make use of pen to paper. Always have it at arms length. In this article, you’ll learn how to put your paper-based system together—making sure you reliably capturing your ideas.

Idea Capture Must be Robust and Reliable

You may be at a coffee shop with a friend, and the conversation sparks a solution to a business problem you have. Pull our your notebook, grab a napkin if that’s all that is handy, and note the solution. How many million dollar business ideas started on a napkin?

Have you woken up in the middle of the night with a burning vision? When we turn over ideas in our mind during the day, when they put stress on us, when we go to bed thinking about them, our subconscious works on them throughout the night.

Keep a notebook by your bed. Use it to quickly write down thoughts that are so important to your inner mind that they stir you from sleep. This is your subconscious waking you with alarm bells ringing and telling you to capture this idea now—before you lose it. Your ideas are that important.

You may be in the shower when lightning strikes, just step out, dry quickly, and get the idea written down. You may be tired, watching television, and an advertisement that usually annoys you, instead sparks an interesting train of thought, one that feels like the thread of a blog article. Jot that down before you lose it.

Use pen to paper to grab that initial idea, and if inspiration keeps flowing, then brainstorm on that idea—write all over that magazine you were reading or scribble in the margins of that book.

It’s really a first point of getting ideas out of your head and onto paper. This is the material you will pick up again and work with, develop, add to, and improve later. First, you have to collect these ideas.

Get it out of your head and onto paper.

Ideas in Transit Are All to Easily Lost

Once you’ve gotten that idea onto paper, you don’t want to misplace it. It’s important to have a process for moving that paper toward your blog. What you need is a temporary storage system for your ideas.

What I use is a physical inbox on my desk. Any idea I write down, whether on the back of a used envelope, post it note, 3×5 index card, or scratch paper, that then go’s from pants pocket to that tray that sits on the corner of my desk. So, this inbox is a real, tappable source of ideas, that I can just reach over and grab at any point.

Make sure your paper-based idea capture system collects at a single point; this is your stockpile of ideas.

The Benefits of Durability

Little pieces of scratch paper are fragile and so easily lost. Try using notebooks that are rugged. You can toss them in your bag, accidentally drop them from ledges, spill coffee on them, even run them over with your car, and they hold up to the abuse.

Notebooks Handle Abuse

I use various notebooks of all sizes to temporarily grab ideas. But I’m not big on using notebooks as permanent reservoirs for my writing. When I use notebooks, it’s just for catching thoughts, and a place to develop them a bit. I don’t have a permanent place for them on bookshelves.

My notebooks go into the same physical inbox on my desk where any paper I write on goes. From there I move the ideas in them into digital format. I literally rip the pages out when I’m done. I often use pads of paper, rather than notebooks as well. For me paper is a temporary vehicle to carry my ideas from my headspace toward my digital workspace.

Another option is to use notebooks as their own stockpile for your ideas. If that works for you. If you love writing with paper, working your ideas out there in long form, then do that. There’s no reason why bloggers can’t make better use of their notebooks.

With my drawing I do keep sketchbooks that I don’t tear up or throw out. You could collect your writing in the same way on a bookshelf. Use a professional notebook, like a Moleskin, and build a repository of written ideas that you’ve built up and developed by hand.

Hipster PDA’s

Hipster PDA’s are also fairly durable and another good option for idea capture. A Hipster PDA is a collection of 3×5 index cards held together by a rubber band or binder clip. They fit readily in pant’s pockets and are just the right size for recording your thoughts and outlining blog posts.

I keep a Hipster PDA in every bag I own. I have one in my daily laptop bag and one in my gym bag. I keep one on my desk, one next to my bed, and one in my car. I often throw one in my pocket as well. I love those little 3×5 index cards.

Purchase a few notecards and try working with them. They are a great size and feel for capturing your raw ideas. Or try a pocket-sized notebook which is about the same size.

Going Straight to Digital

Alternatively, of course you can go straight to digital with your ideas. In addition to paper I often go straight to my laptop to write down ideas, when it’s close by. I also fire up my voice recording app on my iPhone when that’s more convenient.

If paper turns you off, and you are a fast small screen typist, then you can just use your mobile phone to tap down your ideas. I find trying to thumb-type on a tiny screen impossibly slow, but some people are quick with it. If that’s you, then thumb away, just grab your ideas directly on your phone. Most of us keep our smartphones at arms reach at all times, which is convenient. Skip paper altogether and go straight to digital.

The purpose of any of these tools is to reliably capture your ideas as you have them—without loss and without letting your internal editor talk you out of getting these ideas down.

What you are doing here is catching sparks.

Bottling Sparks and Lighting Fires

Each spark has the power to light-up. You are capturing potential fire here.

Any one of these ideas you capture may light a forest on fire or may not have enough oxygen to ignite. Don’t get concerned about the quality or ultimate final use of these ideas, just get them written down.

Get them into your idea capture system. Move them from intangible to tangible. Carry these ideas to a safe place, where you can pull them into your digital workflow, and advance them toward publication on your blog.

Your Idea Capture System in Practice

Capturing ideas requires a reliable method and that you implement that approach. Your capture system is working if:

  • You carry it everywhere you go. It is literally always arms reach away.
  • You use it daily, all day in fact, engaging, and constantly adding new ideas and engaging with it.
  • You collect these ideas into a single point stockpile that you are continually adding to.
  • You refer to this stockpile often. For me, I refer to these captured ideas daily. I go through my inbox of ideas and move them into my digital workflow, but you should at least curate it weekly. You don’t want these ideas to stack up and your idea capture system to bottleneck.

While method is important, there is also something to be said about mindset here.

The Generative Habit of Idea Capture

If you’re in the habit of capturing your ideas, you end up with more ideas to grab. Your mind becomes more curious. You look to engage with thought provoking activities. You’re building habits that generate ideas as much as you are capturing those ideas.

What does your idea capture system look like? What tools and workflow do you use?

Graphic Credit: Notebook designed by Monika Ciapala from the Noun Project.


  • Sue Bride

    I tend to get my ideas on waking up, but they are easily forgotten if I don’t write them down. I always have a notebook nearby at home – ones with tear out pages as they are very much a temporary measure. When out I will email notes to myself using my phone.

    I keep
    everything in MS One Note. Ideas, Resources, Research, Product and
    Services details, blog notes, links, affiliate details …. I even copy
    important PDFs into it.

    I have one main notebook, one for each
    of my sites and a personal one. Each notebook can be split into multiple
    sections, each one having multiple pages. I have been using it for a
    few years now and have it organized so that I can find anything I need
    very quickly.

    One feature I find particularly useful is when
    you copy a title or snippet from a site, the url is automatically
    inserted. Everything is auto saved so data does not get lost.

    • Sean Hodge

      Sue, thanks for sharing your process. MS One Note looks like a useful, versatile application and your process is comprehensive. Great to see how you make use of your phone in your writing process.