If you want to reliably produce interesting writing without driving yourself into an early grave, you need something called a swipe file. It’s where you collect little titbits you can use in your writing.
My swipe file is a collection of material I’ve collected from books, websites, Facebook statuses and email newsletters. I try to spot anything that’s smart, funny, interesting or quirky and copy it into my swipe file so that when I sit down to write, I can just open it up and dive in for inspiration. Often, I’ll find something I can use more or less right away, copying and pasting it into my document.
To give you an example, let me open my swipe file right now and have a random look at what I find.
Like I said, there’s no logic or order – I just throw things in as I find them. (If you’ve seen those TV shows about compulsive hoarders who fill their houses with bin bags of junk, you’re not far off).
Some of it – most of it – I’ll never use. That’s fine, no harm in that. When I sit down to write, I begin with a little tour through my swipe file.
Often, I’ll find a quote or fact or turn of phrase that helps me open my pieces. Going through your swipe fi le is fun. When you kick off every writing session by having a tickle through your collection of gems, you soon begin to associate writing with pleasure.
It’s best to know what you want before you go shopping for copy in your swipe file. Otherwise, you’ll be so dazzled by all the goodies on the shelf you’ll never make it out alive.
Here’s what you might be looking for:
What you find is that the type of material you need is also the type of material you tend to collect. Isn’t that handy? It’s a great feeling when you come up with the perfect turn of phrase, or a killer story for your copy.
One thing you’ll notice is that your swipe fi le soon becomes a heavy influence on what you write. If you have a great little tale burning a hole in your swipe, you naturally start looking for opportunities to use it.
You need to become an anecdote magpie. Collecting neat little stories and jaw dropping yarns should become a compulsion.
The way I do it is to read plenty of books. I’m always on the lookout for books that I think will yield juicy morsels or fascinating stories that I think I can use to pique people’s interest – and help me transition onto whatever point I happen to be writing about.
Most times when you read a book or a novel, the chapter will open with an anecdote or story. Get into the habit of saving the best ones. You can highlight them in your Kindle, or just take a photo of the page on your iPhone.
Again for Kindle users, look at the book’s popular highlights – often other users will have done the job of finding the best stories or tales.
I know that this sounds like a lot of work, but it makes writing much faster.
As Abraham Lincoln said: “Give me six hours to chop down the tree, and I will spend the first four sharpening the axe.” – Yep I got that from a book.