Capture Ideas in a Big Ass Text File

Creative people are not necessarily smarter than the rest of us. All of us get great ideas. However, creative people excel at capturing those ideas so they’re not forgotten.

In her wonderful book The Creative Habit: Learn It and Use It for Life, choreographer Twyla Tharp states that creativity is fueled by rituals—intentional, repeated behaviors. Habits, in other words.

One of her habits is to start a creative project by filling a box with background materials—books, handwritten notes, relevant clippings from magazines, CDs, and anything else that looks useful. She fills at least one box for each project.

The more geeky types among us use software such as Evernote—rather than boxes—to gather capture ideas.

My philosophy is to keep it simple. I just use a Big Ass Text File (BATF).

Ideas for articles, blog posts, and books go in the BATF.

Lists of books I want to read go in the BATF.

Names, addresses, phone numbers, project lists, to-do items, menus, quotations, websites to check, and anything else that occurs to me on the run—all get dumped in the same place.

The BATF.

Note that BATF is singular, not plural. I only have one. When I want to find something that I noted earlier, I always go to the same place—the BATF.

Tracking your ideas in one BATF means:

  • Eliminating the need for new software. You’re already using software to write, right? Use it for your BTF.
  • Eliminating the extra expense for new software (flows from benefit #1).
  • Eliminating the leaning curve for new software (also flows from benefit #1).
  • Using the most platform-independent digital format (text).
  • Using the easiest-to-search digital format (text).
  • Using the least memory-intensive digital format (text).

Plus, you never have to edit this file. If you want to find a specific piece of information, just use the “find” command in your word processor or text editor. Search your BATF with keywords, just like you search the Internet.

In short, you never have to “get organized.” With a BATF and the “find” command, you are organized.

If you want slightly more structure, you can begin each note with a category tag (like the category tags in right-hand column on this page). Then you can alphabetize your BATF by tags.

In any case, your BATF just might become your best friend for managing information.

5 thoughts on “Capture Ideas in a Big Ass Text File

  1. Matt Cornell has used a single text file for years and blogged about it at http://www.matthewcornell.org/blog/2005/8/21/my-big-arse-text-file-a-poor-mans-wikiblogpim.html. He uses WikiWord formatting for his keywords. For those still in the paper world, there’s also the idea of a single notebook or ‘superbook’ that serves the same purpose.

    One thing I always liked about Windows Notepad was that, in creating a new text file, put “.LOG” in the first line to turn it into an automatic log file. Opening the file zooms you to the bottom of the file with the date and time entered. For some reason, I’ve not found any other Mac text editor that had such a simple way to do such a simple thing. (One reason I like the date/time stamp is that I think chronological sorting seems to be the most durable of all sort options for ideas and jottings.)

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