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Create a chaos board to capture your writing ideas

When I’m working on a new project, my mind spins. I make connections from all the whirling ideas and even think of totally unrelated ideas that I might turn into a story or poem. I capture these images and ideas on whatever I have at hand. If I don’t have a notebook nearby, I write on an index card, envelope, or a sticky note.

It feels chaotic to have all this creative flotsam floating around. So when I read about something that author Debra Marquart did to corral her bits and pieces of ideas, I knew I had to try it.

When she was working on her memoir during an artist’s residency at the Ragdale Foundation, she created a chaos board.

Marquart had become overwhelmed when she looked at all the notes and ideas she had written on scraps of paper, napkins, and in notebooks over the years. Essentially, these notes and phrases were prompts that had the potential to become stories. To manage the sheer number of notes and information, she bought a large poster board from an office supply store and began transferring the phrases onto the poster board as she says, “in no particular order (hence, chaos), so that they could all be seen in one glance.”

Much of this material was included in greater depth in the chapters of her memoir, The Horizontal World: Growing Up Wild In the Middle of Nowhere.Others remained on the board waiting for attention. Read an excerpt of her memoir and more about her chaos board in an author’s statement that she wrote for a National Endowment of the Arts grant.

Do you ever feel like you’re adrift in notes and ideas? Try making your own chaos board, either with all the bits you have floating around or for the ones you’ve collected for your current project.

Exercise: Buy a large poster board. Gather all the scraps of paper and notebooks you’ve been using to collect ideas for your current work in progress and a few markers. Write down the notes, phrases, and images on the poster board. While you’re doing it, you might think of even more. Set up your board in your writing room. Let them simmer and see what happens next.

2 Comments Post a comment
  1. I love the idea of embracing the chaos and finding a way to make it a productive process.

    November 4, 2013

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