Once upon a time I used to buy scrapbooks, and cut and paste – literally not figuratively – scraps into these books to give me resources to use in my writing. I might have stories cut out of the newspaper, programmes from events, pamphlets, photos, anything that looked like it could be useful for generating a story. These were my ‘ideas files’. These days scrapbooks can be virtual rather than actual, Notepad documents or Word documents saved in a folder named ‘Ideas’ on my laptop, but I still do it. On my Kindle Fire, I use Evernote too, which I love, as it can sync with your computer, so you’ve got all the same notes in both places. (I’m sure there is other notemaking software out there 😉 )
I still make notes about all sorts of things: snatches of eavesdropped conversation, the way the sky looked on a particular day, a memory, a description, a character sketch, a question, an unusual word, a news story. These things go in my ideas file until they can be slotted together like the pieces of a jigsaw puzzle. Some are assembled to make this picture, others combine to create something different. Some may never used, but who knows? So long as I have them, I have the potential building blocks for a story. If you follow my Facebook page, you will know I have recently been obsessing about surnames, especially women’s surnames: Webster (a female weaver), Brewster (a female brewer), Spinster (you guessed it – a female spinner!) even the word ‘wife’, which may be a corruption of wefen – to weave. (And also the word hussy from husif – a housewife…) These have all come from various sources to be filed and documented and mulled over in my ideas ‘scrapbook’. And when I read a book a while ago, the author had made special mention of a fashion shade popular in the 1890s and 1900s, the name of the colour was Philamot – from the French feuille morte – dead leaves – a disappointingly dingy-sounding colour – but the word conjured ideas and even felt like a possible title or name. All noted for future possible interest.
I find it so useful to keep these little notes and reminders. I have got used to the idea that although I think I will remember something, I never do, so I have to make notes; it’s a bit like leaving myself a trail of breadcrumbs. When I am ready to begin writing, I find it helpful to try a few of these ideas and see which ones seem to fit together, then I stick them all into a Word document, print it up in draft quality, and staple the top of the page to the inside of the cover of the new notebook I’m using for the new story. (I have to have a new notebook, or rather a set of small notebooks, for each new novel, and I always begin to write in longhand, at least in the early stages, even if I end up later moving to the laptop and writing directly onto the screen.) So I have my little ideas ready, I can refer to them, adapt them, and if I don’t use them, they are still saved on the computer for the next new story. To avoid getting too set in my view about how a snippet might be used, I give each one a very broad title or category: ‘1930s or 1940s’, ‘country house type story’, so that ideas can be used in different ways and ‘recycled’ as required.