Tag Archives: inspiration

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.

Three Tips to Beat Writer’s Block

It happens to us all – we’re in the middle of a piece of work and it is just inspired. Everything flows. The words fit perfectly. The idea is seamless and flows like the Nile forming an oasis in a desert of blank pages.

And then the phone rights. Or you get an email alert that snaps you out of the zone. Maybe someone knocks on the door. Whatever happens and then the zone is gone.

Writing all of a sudden becomes like pulling teeth – painful and extraordinarily uninspired. Things on the page that were once beautiful now turn to pure dung and nothing you do seems to redeem the words on the page or match the perfection of what came before.

Pictured: What it feels like to write after you’ve lost the flow.

I do advocate having a set time to write and minimizing interruptions during these writing periods, but that doesn’t mean that an inspired state of mind doesn’t help with the workflow, and when that streak is gone, it can seem impossible to begin to write again.

These three tips help me get back into the flow of writing once I’ve lost it, and hopefully they’ll help you too.

Traveling This Summer? Keep a Journal!

In the summer of 2012 I traveled to China. It was a great experience, and I was super busy all the time. I never found time to write or keep a journal, but my roommate for the trip did. I’m fairly sad that I didn’t set aside the time to do the same thing.

What really impressed me about her journal was that it had writing prompts for her to respond to for each day she was gone. Her friends and family had gotten together and had come up with the writing prompts for her. They then wrote the prompts within a notebook and told her to not look ahead and to just fill in the page for the day’s writing prompt.

I did have fun taking photos, at least. My group was super annoyed that I took so long, but hell, they turned out awesome.
I did have fun taking photos, at least. My group was super annoyed that I took so long, but hell, they turned out awesome.

Besides being a totally awesome gift idea for friends or family that are traveling abroad, this is also a great tool for a writer. I have my memories (and a crap ton of pictures on my Facebook) of the trip, but I don’t have my emotional responses or thoughts documented from my time over there.

My Brain got Stuck in a Rhyming Loop

When it comes to creative projects at school, my go-to is poetry. I had a big creative project due in one of my classes this past week, and I decided, since it was for Arthurian Romance, to imitate the Medieval French style of poetry. For a week solid, I was spending my nights creating plot and writing in rhyming couplets.

Let me tell you about rhyming couplets.

Door-hinge? I guess that rhymes with orange. Try working that into a poem organically.
Door-hinge? I guess that rhymes with orange. Try working that into a poem organically.

At first, it really isn’t that easy to do. I tend to use a rhyming dictionary when I start out, because my brain isn’t in rhyming mode yet. For the first few days working on an epic, 15 page poem written in eight syllable rhyming couplets, the rhyming dictionary is a godsend. I also use an on-line thesaurus to find words of varying syllables so I can force my thoughts into the eight syllable mold. A thesaurus is also useful in finding words that have the right concept behind them and easy rhymes – for example, the word orange is a jerk when it comes to rhyming, but using a thesaurus gives me all kinds of other options to that dreaded word – warm, flame, gold, etc., which are all much easier to rhyme with.

As time passes, however, these tools fade as the brain starts thinking in rhyme. I’m not kidding – on the third day of working with my project until the day it was due, my brain was rhyming. And so the downside of rhyming started to kick in.

Want to Learn a New Literary Technique? Turn to Disney.

While Disney is controversial in the feminist realm for weak female characters, selling the image of a passive woman being the only desirable type of woman and a host of other things I won’t list here (but will rather link the reader to instead), at the root of every Disney story is writing from a team of talented individuals that know what they are doing.

For a well written theme, look no further than the Disney classics. Theme is defined as the main topic of a text, or in this case, movie. In Disney’s Hercules, for example, the main theme is true strength comes from sacrifice. Looking back even further to earlier movies like Sleeping Beauty, strong, well-represented and almost cliche themes like true loves conquers all are clearly portrayed throughout the film.

And I shall awaken her with true love’s kiss, and if that doesn’t work, I’ll just be some kind of weird pervert that kisses sleeping 16 year old girls.

Everyday Inspiration

I don’t like to make generalizations, but let’s face it, book lovers and writers tend to be an introverted bunch of people. We like to live vicariously through our stories—which is good because as much as I like reading about the zombie apocalypse, I’d rather not live it.

As far as writers go, most of the ones I know tend to fall on one side of the same coin. They are either, like me, of the get-out-there-and-experience-shit variety—because what better way to write about it? Or, they tend to be of the aforementioned introverted type. The classic writer, locked away in his room typing away.

But it’s important, regardless of what kind of writer you are, to get out there and experience life because inspiration can strike in the strangest of places. Here are just a few tips how:

Take Public Transportation

I have a few poems and short stories that have been inspired by a trip on the bus or train. Buses and other forms of public transit tend to be places where you can find all types of people and personalities. You can be sitting next to someone who’s homeless or someone who owns their own company.

Sometimes, being so close to strangers leads to some pretty memorable experiences.

One time, on my way to the Greyhound station downtown, a couple boarded the MAX together. The woman was swaying and slurring her words. It was 7 a.m. She was saying goodbye to the man she was with, but she wouldn’t leave, no matter how many times he asked her. The lights on the doors flickered. “The doors are closing,” a woman’s voice said on the loud speaker. But each time the door attempted to shut, it was stopped by the woman’s large bottom and wide hips. She swatted at the door like it was a fly.

It was a little funny and sad. And when she started yelling and another man on board started yelling back, a tiny part of me was even afraid. But then it ended. And I wrote it down. An anecdote in a larger story.

Walk Through the City

Deadlines: Friends or Foes

I’m a writer, sometimes. What do I mean by that? Well, I write, but not all the time. I have school and work and friends and sleep. All of those things keep me from writing on a regular basis, but when I know a deadline is coming up, suddenly I find the time to write.

I don’t know what it is about a deadline – perhaps it’s my previous experience writing for a magazine, or my training as a student, but deadlines inspire me.

I can go almost a full year without writing poetry, even when I set aside time just to sit and write and work, but when a deadline is coming up for a journal I want to submit to, suddenly inspiration strikes.

I can go through painful breakups, I can see the most beautiful sunset, I can have my life flash before my eyes but these things don’t drive me to write. A due date gets me going, somehow.

Even my trip to The Great Wall of China didn't yield the same amount of poetry a looming deadline inspires.
Even my trip to The Great Wall of China didn’t yield the same amount of poetry a looming deadline inspires.

And now I ponder, how can I drive myself to write without having to wait for upcoming deadlines?

Shaped Poetry

I wouldn’t call myself a poet, but I do write poetry and do pursue publication of my poems. One weakness I have for poetry is shaped poetry. I’ve tried my hand at it many times, but outside of one shaped poem I’ve completed, I haven’t really fell in love with any of my shaped poems.

John Hollander, a well known American poet, makes some fascinating shaped poetry. For example, his cat poetry:

I want to pet his words.

The Things We Do Instead of Writing

With no papers due and no pending deadlines for any of my writing projects, I find myself unmotivated to write on a regular basis. Even when I sit down to write – pen in hand or keyboard under finger – I start to create this long imaginary list of other things I should be doing. Soon, it’s too late for me to write, or I’m too tired, or I want a break after doing said list of things. There are some very specific things that pop into my head that prevent me from being a good writer and actually writing. I know I’m not the only writer out there to do this.

One of my professors commented that, anytime she has a book to write, she suddenly remembers that she has dirty dishes in the sink, and that her floor sure could use a mopping, and man, when was the last time she vacuumed? We all have our little ticks that prevent us from doing the writing we set out to do.

The holidays, for example, easily break up our normal routines. Even if you have a normal writing schedule, it’s hard to stick to it with the obligations of the season. It’s hard to say “listen, family/wife/kids/friends, I know we’re supposed to be opening presents right now, but I really have a writing schedule I need to stick to. It’s not that you’re not important, it’s just that if I break my schedule it might be really hard to get back on it. You understand, right?” The answer to that would probably be no.

Unless you plan to give your family disappointment for the holidays, you should probably not use writing as an excuse to skip out on the festivities.

For me, most of the gifts I give during the season are handmade or homemade. I love to crochet and bake cookies, and both activities tend to occupy my hands and my mind so soon writing is completely pushed out of there. Even after the holidays, my brain is still in crochet mode – I’m working on two bags and one hat, at the moment, instead of my poetry or my short stories.

Dreams as Inspiration

I don’t really keep a dream diary, but I know of a lot of people that do. Dreams can be weird sometimes. For example, last night I had a dream that I was fighting against an alien invasion at a base that was a super Home Depot and humanity lost, then I had to write an essay on why I loved my new alien overlord. But sometimes dreams aren’t so weird, or parts of weird dreams can be used as inspiration for writing. Below are some best-selling books inspired by dreams.

Robert Louis Stevenson woke from a strange dream of a doctor with split personalities and completed The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde ten days after he awoke.