How to Build A Literary Swipe File

Savvy copywriters use swipe files to build collections of tried-and-true marketing materials to reference when they feel stuck. But whether you’re a writer, artist, or designer, we can all use a little inspiration every now and then. Building your own swipe file could be the very way you find some.

A Collection of Examples

So in the literal sense, what exactly is a swipe file and where is it stored? It is, simply, a collection of words and images that serve to aid your creative endeavors.

Everyone knows artists steal from each other. Okay, not actual theft, and do not plagirize. Instead, let’s call it inspiration. When you place something in your swipe file, your goal is to analyze the text. Why does it work so well? Study and improve your writing skills.

Where To Start

For one, there’s no point in a swipe file that doesn’t get used. The goal isn’t to be a hoarder of images and words and ideas that, once squirreled away, are quickly forgotten. Make sure to create a system that works for you (more on that later).

You can create different swipe files for different purposes. If you work by day in marketing while pursuing your own creative projects at night, create a separate file for each of those pursuits.

What To Put In A Swipe File

Take pictures or screenshots of passages that made you pause, laugh, or cry. The ones that connected with you. Save links to articles with topics that interest you or headlines that grab you. If you’re having trouble locking down the mechanics of your story, you might find what you’re searching for when you pinpoint what about other people’s writing drew you in.

I’ve started to make a note of first sentences. How do authors begin their stories? What about that string of words made me want to keep reading?

As someone interested in digital marketing, I also have a swipe file for advertisements and copy.

If you can’t relate to this, I don’t even want to know you.
If you can’t relate to this, I’m not sure I even want to know you.


 

The advertisement above is for dapulse (which I’ve never used). It was a sponsored post that showed up in my Instagram feed, and it definitely reached its target audience.

It’s so easy to say, “I like that,” but it’s harder to determine why that is. By building a swipe file, you can better see connections where none seemingly exist. It can also be a useful tool for worldbuilding.

Your swipe file can be physical, like a box full of news clippings and photos and notes, or it can be digital, which is more common. It can also exist in various locations. For example, some people find it easier to take screenshots on their phone, then save them to a folder in their camera roll (in the case of iPhone users) rather than transfer the images elsewhere.

Tools for Building A Literary Swipe File

Since I’m in the early stages of developing my own swipe file, I’m still figuring out what works for me. For now, I’m sticking with Evernote. I can create different notebooks under the same account and add images to text. Evernote has a tagging system, as well as a mobile and desktop app, making it pretty easy to organize and access no matter where you are.

I recommend being as specific as possible with those tags. One for headlines. One for book titles. One for the apocalypse. You get the picture.

I started this one to track information I feel would be useful in creating a realistic apocalyptic world.
I started this one to track information useful in creating a realistic end-of-the-world setting.

 

If you’re more visual, Pinterest may be a useful tool as well. You can create multiple boards, set them to private, and pin images and links, adding a short comment so you remember why you saved it.

In April 2017, Instagram rolled out a new feature: collections. Since then, I’ve also taken to using collections as another medium for creating swipe files. The concept is not unlike pinning images, but the collections are private by default.

Then there’s the simplest option: creating a new folder on your desktop, labeling it “Swipe File,” and dragging anything of interest to it.

Some of you will find that you’re already in the habit of sending yourself links or photos in the hopes that it won’t be forgotten. But since this system usually involves sending yourself an email, it can get lost in your flooded inbox. Email is still a great swipe file system, but be sure to use organizational tools like labels.

If you’re already using a swipe file or plan to start one, let us know what system seems to be working for you below!

Melanie Figueroa

Melanie is the Editor in Chief at The Poetics Project. Having earned a masters in writing and book publishing from Portland State University and gained experience as an in-house editor, she now works as a freelance editor and writer. Her favorite book is The Bell Jar. You can follow Melanie on Twitter or Instagram @wellmelsbells.

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