Monday, March 10, 2014

Taking Inventory of Your Cemetery of Stories and Ideas

Writers Anonymous: There are not enough cemeteries to hold all the dead characters I left behind by not finishing stories.


"Old Graveyard" by Evgeni Dinev from FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Every writer I know has a folder. What's IN this folder? Every note, every picture, every first line, every character sketch, every idea for a story you've ever had.

I have one. It's quite large. It's called WRITING. Inside the folder, you will find other folders that represent various "states" of projects. I have a NOVELS folder that contains novels that are completed, novels with outlines, novels with ideas. I have a SHORT STORIES folder that contains the same elements as my NOVELS folder. I have a STORY IDEAS folder that is full to the brim of ideas. I even have a NEW STORY IDEAS folder because of course those ideas are different from the those in the STORY IDEAS folder. I have a SNIPPETS folder that contains hundreds of notes, each note has a line that I heard or that came to me and I just KNEW I had to write it down for a story... that has not been birthed... yet.


I have nearly thirty folders within the WRITING folder, and each of those folders contains several folders as well.

Some of the material within the WRITING folder is over ten years old. I think the oldest thing in it is about twenty years old.

There are some items in this folder I know I will never touch again. During the time I've been collecting these bits and pieces, I have grown as a writer and will no doubt continue to do so. Some of the ideas do not fit into genres I love to write in, and some no longer pull on me, begging me to write them.


Just as we make time to write (or well, we should make that time)... just as we make time to organize our current writing and to promote and market the published works (or well, we should make that time), we should also make time to take a deep breath, sit before our computers, enter the Cemetery of Stories and Ideas, and take sincere and honest inventory of what we find among the dying pieces. There are no doubt gems worth resurrecting, and there are no doubt things you know in your gut that you will never come back to.

It's not necessarily about hitting the DELETE button and removing those things from your life forever (though technically, some of it does probably need a good, proper burial). It's about organizing a space that is important to your writing life so that when you come to the digital space you work in, you have the most useful tools (including stories and ideas) at your disposal for quick and immediate production.

Shon Bacon is an author, editor, and educator, whose biggest joys are writing and helping others develop their craft. She has published both creatively and academically and interviews women writers on her popular blog ChickLitGurrl: high on LATTES & WRITING. You can learn more about Shon's writings at her official website, and you can get information about her editorial services and online programs at CLG Entertainment.

23 comments :

  1. Shon, you're absolutely right about clutter. But, I suspect asking a writer to remove 'ideas' files from the PC is equivalent to asking a reader to remove books from the shelves. As long as stuff is organised in a logical (or, at least navigable) order, the electronic world can handle it. My guess is I have somewhere between 40 to 50,000 folders dedicated to writing in one way or another, but they're all listed under master folders that make sense and I can usually find what I need. Not always, I concede. And my 'Ideas' file's been going for years and frequently add to it from bits and pieces taken from the five Moleskine notebooks I have scattered around the house, or from my voice recorder, I use for ideas when walking. Do I use the ideas? Very occasionally. Would I get rid of the file? No way!
    But you're quite right about organising the space to work for you. Chaos generally is no help to anyone and that's little that's more frustrating than knowing you have a file somewhere containing the very material you need and being unable to unearth it. So, yes, organise your files and folders. It makes sense.
    Thanks for your post. Oh, that reminds me; I had this idea last night about....

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    1. Ha! Love your response, Stuart, and you're right.

      I know lately, I've been guilty of keeping my folders extraordinarily disorganized, and they do not benefit me in the least right now.

      Organizing the folders would be very beneficial for me... and for other writers that have the problem of compiling ideas and bits and pieces and not properly organizing all that material.

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  2. You are just all so scary. I get an idea, I write the book. Of course, I've only been writing for a relatively short time (and because I'm terrible at remembering, I don't know how long ago I started toying with writing a short fan fiction story, but I'm pretty sure the century started with a 2)

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    1. Terry, what do you do with that idea that might pop into your head as you are working on that book? That happens to me all the time and I have to make notes about that new idea to get it to leave me alone so I can concentrate on the story I'm writing.

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    2. I want an answer to Maryann's question, too, Terry. :-)

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  3. I look at writing ideas just like I do with stuff in my workroom: "I can't throw that out ... I might need it someday."

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    1. Oh, trust me, I feel the same way... to a certain extent. :-) I think the proper organization of all those ideas helps to keep you focused on the writing instead of rummaging through ideas with no purpose.

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  4. Very helpful post, Shon, especially the part about making sure your folders and files are organized. Organization has never been my strong suit. FOr example, the other day I got this idea for a short play for the holiday show at the art center where I am the theatre director. A scene and bits of dialogue just came to me and I had to write all that down. Knowing I would not get back to that project for some time, I was trying to figure out where I should save it on my computer. In the master file for the art center? In my folder for plays? In my folder for works in progress? I think I need a secretary. :-)

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    1. You probably DO need a secretary, Maryann. LOL I think all writers could benefit from one, actually.

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  5. I have half-finished stories in three computers. Most of what I start I eventually finish if the idea holds up. Maybe not the writing so much if it's an early one. My very first book took 13 years to get right before I published it. I learned a lot since then and hopefully put it to good use. I hope you go back into your files and study the ideas. If the story was good then, it should be good now. Only the writing has improved to protect the reader.

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    1. That's a very good point, Polly, about if a story is good then, it should be good now. I totally agree.

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  6. I have manuscripts written and placed here and there in my office. Last summer, I decided to just trash them all. And by "trash" I mean burn. At the last minute, I retrieved them. They're now back in my office, taking up space. But I'm glad I didn't burn them.

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    1. I'm glad you didn't burn them either, Helen!

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  7. I call it my "Widows and Orphans" folder. Within in are a bunch of story ideas I will probably never get around to writing. I have considered throwing them away, but I can't bring myself to do it yet.

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    1. Like that title, Diana. I have one of those folders, too.

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  8. It's always good practice to collect ideas, whether you ever get around to using them. You just never know when they might come in handy!

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    1. I agree, Heidi. Good organization of all those wonderful ideas will help keep us productive as writers.

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  9. Me, too!!! And some of my stuff is so old the only digital copies are on ancient lg floppy disks. Luckily I have a printed copy of each....not that any of them are publishable. It's just a little history of my writing life....

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    1. Patricia, I, too, have several floppy disks. Occasionally, I whip them out just to marvel at them!

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  10. Organization is not my strong suit, but I'm working (slowly) on it. Hopefully, most of the novels I've begun over the years (and that now reside on my aging hard drive) will see completion by the end of 2016.

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    1. Praying that is so, Linda! Get to completion!

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  11. Yes!! I've just recently started doing this!!

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  12. My collection goes all the way back to the very first time I started writing (yes, from the moment I learnt how to write in sentences in school - all the misspelt stuff is so amusing). Also, everything is on paper, not electronic, hidden in old school exercise books. Besides that pile of exercise books, I have stories that I have written, because they begged so hard for me to write them and then threw away immediately after, because they were (self admittedly) trash. I have folders filled with little facts, pictures, musical scores and anything else that gives me ideas or holds the memory of an idea or story.

    Every now and then, I go through all my exercise books and folders, not to throw anything away, and not just to search for the still 'live' gems (or finish writing the trash so that I can throw it out for good, because I've proven the trash is trash); but because reading through them makes me happy and puts me to sleep.

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The Blood-Red Pencil is a blog focusing on editing and writing advice. Some of our contributors are editors, some are authors, and some are writing sheep. Yes, sheep.

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