The Writers File

One of the most fundamental challenges a writer faces is writers block. The major concern sited is the lack of ideas to write about. For this reason, I urge all writers, seasoned or beginner, to begin a writers file — a place to store ideas, characters and phrases for the times of “idea drought”. 

Like an experienced farmer,  a seasoned writer understands the ebb and flow of the seasons, that the rains flooding with ideas, characters and plot lines can gush forth, threatening to flood the entire room, but just as quickly dry up into a searing drought which appears to have no end. Similarly, they understand that the idea of tithing– putting a little away for the leaner times or droughts which inevitably come around– is a wise move should they wish to stay in business for the long term.

Just as the GoT Starks broodily shoot stares across the room and mouth “Winter is coming”, so ought writers take heed that the spring and summertime of abundant ideas has a short span of accommodation in their life.

A writers file can take on many guises, from a tatty notebook kept stuffed in a back pack, to a high tech electronic notes system on your i-thingy. It can be a manila folio of newspaper articles, maps, a list of names, odd photos and magazine clippings of interesting faces, rooms or environments. A writers file could be a shoe box of recycled (read – stolen) movie ticket buts, menus, postcards, theatre programs and timetables from around the world. Writers love to sit in cafes, snatch dialogue from passerbys and customers, reflect and imagine what others are doing with their day and about motivation for what they are experiencing on the streetscape going by. Wise writers will continue to collect prompts, ideas and springboards for their writing, even when they are focused on a specific novel or piece; understanding that they may need their hidden gems to nudge them out of writers block one day. 

Regardless of the format in which a writers file is kept, at some point it needs to be sorted into basic areas, if only to assist pulling oneself out of writers block. Sections titled , “setting”, “characters”, “events”, “props” and “dialogue” alone might prompt some ideas to begin with, should you have nothing to start your writers file up with. Never throw away a single “thing”. Every idea, no matter how strange or unrelated it may be from your current WIP or genre, may serve a purpose in the future. Sift through your notes and collected bits to file them roughly into these sections, and make sections which are more relevant to your own needs as you go along. 

Emerging writers are encouraged to write every day. Every writer should strive to write something every day. This writing can be a simple journal, a turn of phrase, a description of an emotion or words which capture a feeling, place or character. From these small things, a novel can emerge and blossom.  Writing regularly and as a commitment to yourself and to your craft will give you confidence to explore language and shape it alongside your characters. Keeping and maintaining a writers file will ensure that the flow of abundant ideas is kept at a constant, instead of a trickle, dominated by a temperamental muse. 

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3 thoughts on “The Writers File

  1. I have so many notebooks all over the place that now it takes me far too long to go through them all when I’m brainstorming. So what I’ve done (definitely still a work in progress) is created a blog specifically for all my ideas. You can see what I mean by visiting: http://in-spire-d.blogspot.com

    I have it set up by tags, so that each post is tagged specific to category (ie: Short Story, Writing Prompt, Plot, Character, etc..) and then any subjects it contains (ie: supernatural, romance, death, female, stabbing, spirit, reincarnation, etc…).

    So if I’m ever in need of a PLOT that is about a FEMALE who is MURDERED, I can simply click on those tags/labels and it narrows it down for me without having to search page after page.

    It’s definitely a laborious project but one that when I’m completely done, I feel will be well worth it. I’m also planning on adding resource pages (I already have my personal character worksheet up) so that everything related to my writing is all in one place. I have mine set up so that anyone can see it, but if you’re worried about privacy there are always ways to password protect, etc.

    I have a sketched out plan for designing a website that combines everything a writer would need for brainstorming and keeping it organized, I just don’t have the tech know-how to create said program/website. It’s too bad because it would be a kick-ass tool for writer’s! 🙂

  2. I used to be very good about this. I had different notebooks for settings, plots, characters, etc. I even had one for “titles”, as often I just got an idea for a cool title for a story and wanted to keep those around, too.

    Then Life took over and made me less organized about this stuff. One big MS Word document with a ton of scraps of ideas… copied from one computer to the next, newer, faster, better computer and upgraded from one version of Word to the next, newer one. It is so unkempt at this point that I don’t even look at it anymore. This is something I need to rectify but it’ll only happen “when I have time”. Which, I think, is the real problem I face with getting my writing life organized again.

  3. Lots of ideas in my I-thingy but all disorganized, so much so that even when I know what I’m looking for, I often can’t find it. Sigh….
    Start again.

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