Ah, the holidays. Annoying relatives. Congested traffic. Obligatory cash hemorrhages. And a whole lot of writing inspiration.
It’s good to be a writer, isn’t it? Because whether you love the holidays or hate the holidays, these lovely year-end events mean plenty to write about.
And what better place to keep all those wonderful details than in your very own swipe file? Now that’s a gift that keeps on giving. And it’s a gift you give yourself (if you’re a writer, anyway).
Take this article with you to your holiday event, and you’ll have plenty to write about for the rest of next year.
I’ll tell you how. But first…
What’s a Swipe File?
Usually, a swipe file is the place you keep all the cool shit you wish you thought of but someone else thought of it first. It’s inspiration on demand. With a little motivating envy mixed in.
Imagine you find the most perfectly constructed sentence in all of creation. This sentence gives you chills. It doesn’t matter where you found it. Because after you curse the gods that your competition wrote this perfect sentence and you didn’t, you just clip it. Or copy and paste it. Or whatever works for you. And then you add it to your swipe file for later tinkering.
Artists in all genres keep swipe files. Marketing gurus keep swipe files with clippings of their favorite ads. Painters keep copies of their favorite painting techniques. Musicians…well, you get the point.
Some writers use a physical journal to keep their swipe file snippets. I keep a notebook in my Evernote account called “Too Write” (see what I did there?). That way I can snap and upload photos, audio recordings, and take notes wherever I am.
Later I harvest these details and story ideas for my current work in progress or to inspire a new one.
It doesn’t matter where you keep your swipe file snippets, as long as they’re safe and all in one place.
Why Writers Need a Swipe File
The idea is to have all this wonderful inspiration in one place—not to copy or steal it—but to reboot it, analyze it, figure out what makes it work. So a swipe file is both inspiration and instruction.
Not in the mood to write? Rifle through your swipe file. Can’t get pumped about a scene? Find inspiration in your swipe file. Not sure how to pull off a romantic plot line in a horror story? Need a realistic dialogue snippet? Forgot what a drunk person looks like? Check your swipe file.
It just works.
Inspiring Holiday Prompts for Your Swipe File
Sometimes life inspires the best material for your swipe file. And writing prompts are a great way to get your swipe file started.
Read them through, keep them in your back pocket (or on your phone or in the back of your mind), and use them to make observations during the holiday. Most important? Make sure to write down your observations.
Ready? Here we go.
- What were the top three most inappropriate things said at the dinner table?
- Name the most embarrassing gift someone received. Explain what made it embarrassing.
- Describe the taste and texture of your favorite holiday dish.
- Do something you normally wouldn’t do. How do people react? Write down the details of their facial expressions, quotes, or body language.
- Consider the holiday traditions you participate in. Do any of them seem strange to you when you give them a second thought?
- Did anyone drink a little too much? What specific details about their behavior, movements, or articulations reveal that they’ve been drinking?
- Find a family photo. Identify the details that reveal some family dynamic at play.
- What were the top five smells you noticed that made it feel like the holidays? Write them down.
- Did those smells trigger any memories? Write down the details of these memories.
What To Do With Your Holiday Swipe File Snippets
Use your swipe file in whatever way works for you. Here are a few ideas to get your started.
- Use them to inspire journal entries.
- Consider the snippets as a group. Do they inspire their own short story?
- Weave one or more of these snippets into a scene you’re having trouble with and see what happens.
- Hear any great dialogue? Use it to jazz up a dull character.
- Use the sensory details you experienced (taste, smell, touch, sight, sound) to inspire sensory details in your current work in progress. You don’t have to use the exact sensations you experienced. But think where you might add similar sensory experiences into your story.
I had always thought of it as stealing, but now I am seeing where you are coming from. Know what I will be doing today. I see a Post and think I would so love to write about that with my own spin, Or I love the heading but want to use it with other content… Thanks for this inspiring post, off to make a file!
I had never heard of a swipe file before, but it is absolutely something to remember. I have plenty of little notebooks where I jot things down, but then forget to look back. And of course, all the image material available from the net isn’t included. Thanks for the idea!
Mandy Wallace says
I highly recommend Evernote for lassoing all those pieces of everything together. You can save entire webpages, photos, articles, audio files, etc together in one easily-accessible, highly-mobile place. And the best part? You can organize it all so you can actually use it.
Thanks for commenting, Elvira <3