How Index Cards Became My New Writing Tool

Throughout life, I have often considered myself a late bloomer, but never more so than now in discovering the joy of index cards. Yes, index cards!

With the little writer’s voice in my head constantly pitching ideas to me, the challenge has always been to find the means to capture those ideas IMMEDIATELY.

I can usually juggle a handful of random ideas for about half an hour until I can get to a screen or a piece of paper to jot them down. But beyond that, I run the same risk as the cartoon dog from the movie “Up!” because the moment I’m distracted by a “Squirrel!” the idea could be gone forever.

Sometimes an idea might just fizzle out on its own, or sometimes it might grow into a mighty oak in the form of a blog post, a screenplay or even a novel, but the key is to capture that idea in order to see what comes of it.

To do that, I do my best to capture them all. Figuring out the best vehicle to capture the ideas has been the tricky part.

As much as I still heavily rely on notebooks to capture thoughts and ideas, I need a more portable solution to capture ideas on the run. With a couple of discs in my back degenerating by the hour, excess cargo needs to be kept to a minimum.

I have tried writing ideas into my iPad’s “Notes” app with some success. But after a few months, the strings of ideas get so long, retrieval becomes an issue as I find myself scrolling and scrolling to the point of feeling light headed and dizzy. They say artists suffer for their craft, but I don’t think they meant nausea from idea retrieval.

Good old fashioned scraps of paper have been pretty effective. Through the years, I’ve recycled used office paper by chopping sheets into quarters and using the B-side for notes. It worked well for a couple of years actually, so I knew I was on to something. However, the slightly OCD side of me had enough with mismatched scraps of paper that were hard to organize and to store neatly for future reference.

I recently watched again the Joan Rivers documentary “A Piece of Work” where Joan shows us her index card filing system for jokes. I was inspired and thought I would give it a try for capturing my own writing ideas.

Would you believe it seems to work for me?

I scribble a few ideas on the index cards, slide them into a dedicated slot in my messenger bag, and hang on to them for a few days in case other ideas on the same theme spark up. On the weekend, I take the index cards out of the messenger bag and file them meticulously in the appropriate index card box.

The added bonus is that filling an index card or two with ideas is an incredible confidence booster. Because an index card tends to fill up more quickly than a standard sheet of paper, I feel more productive, sooner! I just keep filling out more cards on the same topic and 5 or 6 cards later, I have the outline for a blog post.

For a “parking lot” of ideas, it seems to work as it keeps the ideas neat, tidy, organized. Ideas become easy to save, easy to add, easy to edit and easy to retrieve. I know it’s a little old fashioned, but I have yet to find an electronic app that can mimic these properties so easily.

I also find that with index cards, it is so easy to rearrange ideas (before putting them in electronic format) such as for a larger project like a screenplay.

For the blog, when I am looking for inspiration, I can go back to the index cards, ordered alphabetically by subject and leaf through them to see which ones appeal or are ready for development.

At the same time, I admit that index cards are a treat because they look so official, like they belonged to a talk show or game show host. When I am holding a small stack of index cards in my hand, I can live out another watered down fantasy at the same time.

Index cards might be a little old-school but if they keep the ideas flowing and improve my ability to save and retrieve ideas easily, does the format really matter?

My creative processes are always evolving, so who knows what my parking lot of ideas will look like in a year or two. Will it look like Joan Rivers’ filing system or will it be something electronic, I really don’t know. But either way, it’s a very personal thing and this seems to work for me now.

How about you? How do you capture passing thoughts and ideas?

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Sincere thanks for reading!
Have a great day,


Filed under How to, Humour, Misc blogs, Writing

16 responses to “How Index Cards Became My New Writing Tool

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  11. Robert Venier

    Index cards are great. Go through the day, have 2×3 cards in each room with a pen. Yes, even the bathroom. Think of something, jot it down. Download complete. If idea gets bigger, write it on 3×5 and expand it. 4×6, 5×7, etc. waiting in the wings. Some ideas become 8×11 on paper. Some grow to notebooks. Some go on to be book-size. Well, you get the idea. I use cardstock quality 3×5. Also have 3×5 cardstock in these forms from brain to to-do: blank; lined; to-do checklist. Think of something to buy, jot it down on 2×3. Think of something to research, jot it on 2×3. Think of a memory, jot it down on 2×3. Think of a book you want to read, jot it down. Cards in buy stack can be sorted quickly put in priority sequence and put a rubber band around them. They are ready to execute in order. Simple. Portable. Sortable. Visual.

    • Hello Robert
      Thank you so much for your comment.
      I think that we are very much on the same wave length when it comes to our use of index cards, although I think you have raised it to an art form it itself!
      Bravo and keep up the great work!

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