Creative Notes: Scrap Heaps & Your Writing

Call it what you will, many writers keep ideas in a notebook. Here’s why a “scrap pile” is essential.

Every writer’s process is different. There are millions of words written about creating a process that works for you, one to help you stay organized and on track to meet deadlines and goals. Creative notes are one of those organizational tools you might hear about, called by many different names.

Nearly all creative writers mention that they use a notebook of some kind to keep ideas. Call it what you will — an idea pad, writing journal, scrap pile, “book book,” story binder — many, many writers have one. And they can be a lifesaver when you’re looking for inspiration. 

What Do You Mean "Creative Notes" or "Scrap Heap"?

It’s where you jot down the snippets of dialogue you hear in your head or overhear at the mechanic shop. It’s where the brainstorming and character descriptions are recorded. It’s where you might keep your best metaphors or similies, just waiting to be used, like a backup toothbrush in its packaging under the sink.

This scrap heap is essential. You’ll return to it again and again as the plot develops, you figure out which character best suits that great one-liner, and how all the pieces ultimately fit together.

Add to the scrap

Don’t let great words clutter your mind. Release them onto the page. They’ll be ready when you need them.

One of my favorite notetaking tools is Evernote. It’s simple for me and lets me record audio notes when I’m driving and talking through an issue, or snip items from the web for a mood board, if I’m trying to set a particular scene.

Of course, find a method that works for you. Although I love creative writing by hand, it is far less searchable than digital. So even when the mood strikes me to record my thoughts with pen and paper, I ultimately end up typing it into Evernote a couple days later, as the scrap makes its way into the working draft.

Writing Tip of the Day: Drafting Challenges

What kinds of things should you keep in the creative notes in your writer’s journal? How do you collect a rich trove of work-in-progress scrap to mold into something?

Write or record descriptions of people you knowReflect on real people in your life and write similes to describe them. Does he move like a bird? Does she sing like a waterfall? Is she hungry like the wolf? Go into detail about a person using all the comparisons you can. Then, when it comes time to build characters, choose similes that fit, then expand them. (The fun part is combining elements of different people you know to create a totally-fictional-yet-still-real person.)

Art direct three key locations. If your story is like most, the number of locations will be limited and several will repeat. Think of yourself, dear Writer, as dressing a film set for three locations. Create a separate list of descriptions, items, and feelings associated with each location. What is it like to be in the room, standing at that cliff edge, or crammed inside that car’s backseat? Use all five (+) senses and over-elaborate details. Then, as you draft and find yourself in one of those locations (again), you can grab a fresh descriptor or detail from your scrap pile.

Cool facts or quotes. Of course, never use a quote without giving credit. And always confirm the accuracy of your facts. But, that being said, when you hear a piece of trivia, a unique origin story to a mundane item, a tale local to an area or in danger of being lost to history, save it for later. Even if it’s just a question to remind yourself (like, “Heard that spiders can see UV light. Is that true?” or “DYK: whiteout was invented at a kitchen table by accident.”) you can research later and unravel an entire path of creativity you may have forgotten about if you had not thrown it in your creative notes scrap pile.

🌹 🌹 🌹

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