Steven Johnson (author of one of my favorite books of last year Where Good Ideas Come From has a new blog on Medium called The Writer’s Room. In his first post, he writes about the idea of what he calls a spark file, a running repository of all his ideas and hunches that aren’t quite ready for execution (much like how people use Moleskines or Evernote):
Now, the spark file itself is not all that unusual: that’s why Moleskins or Evernote are so useful to so many people. But the key habit that I’ve tried to cultivate is this: every three or four months, I go back and re-read the entire spark file. And it’s not an inconsequential document: it’s almost fifty pages of hunches at this point, the length of several book chapters. But what happens when I re-read the document that I end up seeing new connections that hadn’t occurred to me the first (or fifth) time around: the idea I had in 2008 that made almost no sense in 2008, but that turns out to be incredibly useful in 2012, because something has changed in the external world, or because some other idea has supplied the missing piece that turns the hunch into something actionable. Sure, I end up reading over many hunches that never went anywhere, but there are almost always little sparks that I’d forgotten that suddenly seem more promising. And it’s always encouraging to see the hunches that turned into fully-realized projects or even entire books.
I have a document similar to this in Simplenote where I write down quick ideas—design treatments, topics for this blog, a random thought that I don’t know what to do with, even just a theory for something that I don’t know is true. The key, as Johnson points out, is to frequently return to the list because any visit could reignite a forgotten idea.