Collecting: The nature of writing

When our theme for August, collecting, was announced I immediately thought, “I don’t collect anything; what am I going to write about?” But that initial moment of panic was completely unfounded.

Now, I used to collect stuffed bears – until my husband put the kibosh on that. “You’re too old for stuffed animals” (not really a legit reason, in my mind) and “We’re running out of space” (okay, legit reason). Since then, I really haven’t collected anything.

Or so I thought.

Turns out my collections these days are just much more ephemeral, less likely to be stored on a shelf. See, I collect words.

I’m sure this happens to every writer. You’re walking down the street. You see something (like an old guy in a top hat, crazy glasses and a kilt, carrying a walking stick – no, I kid you not). You start to think, “What’s that about?” Before you know it, you’ve got a story idea. Maybe it’s something you can write immediately, maybe it’s not. But you’ve collected an idea.

Or you are standing in line at Starbucks. The gentleman ahead of you is on his phone and you hear a snippet of conversation. “You’d better fix this, you hear me?”

You’ve collected an idea.

Where do you store your collections? Well, some people stick them in a notebook. Some write notes on a smart-phone app. Me, I use Evernote – a handy online notebook that synchs from the web to my phone to my laptop. So that snippet of conversation can’t get lost and I have access to it anywhere (side note: that snippet of conversation above? I carried it around for six months until it showed up in Every Other Monday is Murder, the first Laurel Highlands novel, which I’m in the end stages of right now.)

Walking to work one morning, dodging mounds of dirty snow, I was hit with a what if. What if Jim Duncan showed up at the scene of a fire at a fledgling resort, and there was a dead body there? What if the dead guy wasn’t the guy who rented the room?

I’d collected an idea (that one is still sitting in Evernote, waiting to be written).

I’ve collected another line and I can totally hear my wise-cracking deputy coroner Tom Burns saying this – I just need to find the story: “Holidays are usually a time when family members decide to ‘off’ one another.”

Lest you think I’m morbid, I collect ideas for my middle-grade series too. I have notes in Evernote for two more stories in that series. Ideas just collecting virtual dust until I find the right story and can pull them out of my collection.

So you see, I don’t have stamps, or coins, or rare books (although I never did give up all the bears). But I’ve got lots of ideas, lots of words.

And who knows? Some day those words might be more valuable than the bears.

Tell me, what’s do you collect?

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Author: Liz Milliron

Liz Milliron has been making up stories, and creating her own endings for other people's stories, for as long as she can remember. She's worked for fifteen years in the corporate world, but finds making things up is far more satisfying than writing software manuals. A lifelong mystery fan, her short fiction has been published in online magazines Uppagus and Mysterical-e. She has also had stories included in Lucky Charms: 12 Crime Tales, Blood on the Bayou (the 2016 Bouchercon anthology), Fish Out of Water, and Mystery Most Historical. She is a past president of the Pittsburgh chapter of Sisters in Crime. Visit her online at http://lizmilliron.com, find her on Facebook at https://facebook.com/LizMilliron, or follow her on Twitter (@LizMilliron).

11 thoughts on “Collecting: The nature of writing”

  1. Cynthia, yes! I constantly warn my friends “you realize this conversation might end up in a story some day, right?” Usually the idea tickles. Them. And yes, EVERY OTHER MONDAY is almost read to go to an independent editor. After that, I have plans for querying/pitching and/or self-publishing.

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  2. You never know when inspiration will strike (and more often than not it strikes when you’re out of the house, no computer at the ready), so it makes natural sense to collect these ideas for later. Great post!

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  3. Diane, this is why I love Evernote. I have it on my phone, which I am almost always carrying. So I can jot a note there, and when I get home boom! right there on my computer. I’ve got notebooks for various projects to keep it all organized. I’m horrible with paper – it gets lost and destroyed, so Evernote is a perfect solution for me.

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  4. Evernote sounds like a great solution. I collect scraps of paper with ideas and overheard snippets scrawled on them, and then the trick is finding them to add to my file. Yay on the novel, too!

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  5. I actually had to drop Evernote because I was collecting TOO much and couldn’t ever find what I needed. Ha! But it is beautiful how it can go from your phone to your computer…

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  6. Thanks, Sue. Yeah, those scraps of paper would get stuffed into pockets, washed, lost, blah. Sarah, the key is notebooks and tags. If you just dump notes in, you’ll totally get lost.

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  7. Hi all…just found this blog. This is a great thread, so rather than lurking, as I often do, I thought I’d jump in. I love Evernote and I’ve found one of the coolest features, and one I don’t think anyone really knows about, is that you can forward an email to Evernote. I’ve found this very useful for all sorts of things, from directions someone has sent me in email to little snippets that happen in email that I want to remember (collect).

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