Write down your ideas when they come to you. This core GM tip gets repeated often in the Roleplaying Tips newsletter for good reason.
If you do not record your ideas, they could get lost or fuddled, and I find nothing more frustrating when my brain pumps out a super idea only to ignore or forget it.
How To GM More Often
Writing out your ideas is the equivalent of mental exercise. It makes you smarter. No lie.
The biggest benefit, however, is not a bigger brain. It’s more engagement.
Busy GMs who have no time to prep for games tend to become distant from gaming over time. The zeal fades as they dream about old days with less responsibility and big blocks of time free for gaming.
Writing down one idea at a time lets you sneak in session prep a few seconds at a time. It has no impact on your schedule. In almost every situation, you can pause for a few seconds to make a note.
Keep making notes, and the session plan starts to take form. By the time you get that small chunk of time to do game planning, most of it is done for you.
In this way, writing down your ideas keeps your gaming alive and thriving, even with kids, job, other hobbies, and a million of distractions.
I Tried Several Notes Apps Before Picking Daily Notes
Whether I’m in bed, on the street, at work, watching TV, or planning my next gaming session, I use my iPad to capture my ideas. About the only places I can’t use my iPad is in the sun, while driving, or in the shower.
The essential app I use every day to capture and organize my ideas is Daily Notes. This app is so important I put it in my dock.
Daily Notes recently released an upgrade, with many great new tweaks and features, so this is one of those great apps that is always improving.
Daily Notes was about my fifth idea capture app attempt. I tried the default Notes app that comes with the iPad, and found it did not suit my needs. Then I tried NotesHD, which I still use, but does not have the features I need. I tried a couple of other forgettable apps. I tried Evernote, which is awesome, but it does not do the trick for me.
Features I Like
The quest ended with Daily Notes because it met nearly all my needs:
- Sections. Different areas for work, RPG, my websites, my projects.
- Dated entries. I have always used a diary entry style for my ideas.
- Tags. The big one. I need a more granular way of cataloguing my thoughts.
- Export. I need a way to get my thoughts out of my notebook into the relevant software (email, doc, or spreadsheet, usually)
How I Use It To Capture My Ideas
I created sections – called tabs – for important areas or projects.
When a thought or idea comes to me, I open the app, which defaults to the current date, select the tab I want, and start writing. I tag the entry and am done.
The app itself takes about one second to manage in this process, which is the way it should be. I do not need to boot a PC, wait seconds while I launch software, find the proper file to open, find the right location within the file, then start writing.
This is a bit of an exaggeration, actually, because most of the time when at a computer I just crack open Notepad, which is in my launch bar, and I am writing within a couple seconds. However, even after that I still need to file that idea away somewhere. I email it to myself, or save the file, or, once my head is emptied (which my wife says is often) I find the permanent location I store my information and slot it, which does take time.
With the iPad, I flip open the lid, enter my password, open the app, select the tab, and start writing – about one second.
Weekly Ideas Scan
Most of my ideas are crap. The goal is to generate so many ideas some are brilliant. Then you just select the good ideas and run with them.
The more often you write your ideas down, the more often ideas come to you. It’s a skill you develop over time. Brainstorming, some call it.
But there are also times you chase a sequence of thinking down to a conclusion and you want to note that chain and the end thought. That is real work being done. I call it perfect beer-on-the-deck moments. It’s also how I do my best game session planning.
So, I fill this bucket full of crap and some gems. Each week, when I do my GTD reviews, I scan my Daily Notes entries. The good ones, if there are any, I transfer to my project lists and documents.
It’s that easy. Record everything. Sift through it regularly. Take the best stuff and leave the rest behind.
I keep a list of all open threads and review them GTD-style before each session. I update accordingly.
Most often, I pick a thread and think it through. I do this while driving, during TV commercials, or when otherwise free to think. Exercise is an especially effective time for me to think while my body is distracted.
When ideas and thoughts come to me about game situations and plot threads, I record them in Daily Notes. Then I review them and transfer the good stuff to my loopy session plan.
This year my thread notes have grown beyond what a plain text file can keep organized and accessible. So I have transferred my loopy system to MyInfo. I’ll write about this awesome piece of GMing software another day, but suffice to say I still loop and still keep things simple for agile GMing of a sandbox fantasy city campaign.
Record Your Ideas Daily
Regardless of system or software, create a sleek system for yourself that lets you write down your ideas as soon as they come to you. Pen and pocket notebook did me good throughout the 1990s. So did the Hipster PDA in the mid-2000s.
Today I use Daily Notes and an iPad, but the principle is the same: get it out on paper. And do something with the good ideas. Act.
Get some gaming done this week.