What’s In Your Writer’s File?

Perhaps you’re familiar with Samuel L. Jackson’s punch line in his commercials for Capital One. After he tells you everything that the card is not, he tells you what it is and asks the viewers, “What’s in your wallet?”

I’m going to ask you a variation on the question, though, and it has nothing to do with your credit cards or your wallet.

I’m going to ask instead, “What’s in your writer’s file?”

“What’s a writer’s file?” you might inquire in return.

While its form may vary from one writer to another, its purpose remains the same. 

A writer’s file is a repository of thoughts and ideas too good to risk losing, but that don’t have a place to call their own yet. Sometimes, they are things that strike us funny throughout the day. Other times, they’re thoughts or emotions that we know will fly away if we don’t capture them before they flee.

My guess is that the popular book Anguished English, by Richard Lederer (otherwise known as “An Anthology of Accidental Assaults upon Our Language”), probably started out as a stack of scrap paper with scrawled notes recording such assaults discovered by Richard or sent to him by his friends and students.

These notes would have all had a home in his writer’s file, until such a day and time when he realized that his file was spilling out onto the floor and he needed to do something with them. Unable to bear the idea of parting with these precious gems of humor, he decided that an anthology was just the thing for them! And writing an anthology would then justify his continued hoarding of such dastardly assaults on the English language so that he could go on to write other books in the series.

These days, though, we have the benefit of using digital writer’s files. (My personal favorite is Evernote.) No more senseless cutting down of trees or household safety hazards from runaway scraps of paper.

Of course, some of these tidbits just tickle my funnybone and would never make their way into my writing. Things like the auto detailing shop I once saw while I was traveling with a large banner hanging outside advertising “Clear Bras!” To get the full sense of this, though, you have to understand… I saw the banner before I had any clue what the store was. So I was a bit puzzled by what these odd Midwesterners were up to.

Or another entry memorializing the day I found my cat licking a page of my erasable notebook. To get the full impact, you have to understand that the pages of this notebook are erased by wiping them with a damp cloth… So, when I saw my cat licking an open page, I had a momentary panic wondering if his rough tongue had blotted out all my client meeting notes. (Thankfully, it hadn’t!)

As a nonfiction writer, I have no idea when I might ever use those entries in my writer’s file, but they’re too precious to just let slip.

So, what’s in your writer’s file? Share your favorite entry with me. I’d love to hear it.