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Inspiration on Demand: Create a Swipe File


Photo courtesy of marcusrg

A Guest Post by Marelisa Fabrega of Abundance Blog at Marelisa Online

Swipe files are a collection of excellent material that provide a great jumping-off point for anyone who needs to come up with lots of ideas, whether you’re a graphic designer, copywriter, author, and so on. A swipe file can be a source of creativity triggers, it can help you mix and match–as well as recombine–old ideas in new ways, and it can help you learn from the best. Instead of starting with a blank page, you begin with a reservoir brimming with brilliant ideas and images. You can use a notebook or a binder, you can keep your findings in a box—a shoebox or a hat box, for example–, or you can even create a digital swipe file by using a platform such as tumblr.com or posterous.com.

Anything that Catches Your Attention Can Go In Your Swipe File

Stuff your notebook with quotes, stories, images, poems, video URLs, pieces of fabric, and anything else that catches your fancy. Fill the pages with random facts which may at some point prove useful: the human body has 210 bones; the capital of Australia is Canberra, not Sydney or Melbourne as most people think; Elias Howe invented the lockstitch sewing machine—after struggling with his original design which did not work as it should, the answer came to him in a dream in which he was captured by a bunch of savages carrying spears with eye-shaped holes near the top.

Include the URL of YouTube videos you find inspirational, such as the Ukele Orchestra of Great Britain playing the musical score from” “The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly”; the short film “Balance” which won the Oscar for “Best Animation” in 1990; the “Funny Chicken” “Funny Chicken”; video for when you need a good laugh; or anything from TED.com.

Turn to the next page of your notebook and pencil in the “Enuma Elish”, which is the Babylonian Creation Myth, or the story of Midas, the wealthy king of Phrygia in Asia Minor who was called upon to attend a musical contest between the god Apollo and the satyr Pan. Midas declared Pan the victor and an enraged Apollo inflicted him with a pair of asses’ ears. The gods from both the Roman and Greek pantheons can be great sources of inspiration.

Another turn of the page can reveal a carnival scene, complete with midgets flying through the air and a Ukrainian fortune teller in her tent studying the tarot cards spread out before her. On the next page you can have a circus scene filled with elephants, cotton candy, and clowns on unicycles. Then do something different and fill the next few pages with poems, such as: “She Walks In Beauty Like the Night” by Lord Byron, “The Saddest Lines” by Pablo Neruda, and “Phenomenal Woman” by Maya Angelou.

Create collages from images you cut out of magazines; add vintage postcards. Include images of “Milagros”, the Spanish word for miracles, which are small metal religious charms found in many areas of Latin America, especially Mexico and Peru, depicting arms, legs, praying people, farm animals, and a wide range of other subjects with the intent of petitioning saints for help or protection, or giving thanks for prayers that have been answered. You can also include a photograph of tiny Guatemalan worry dolls; people tell their worries to the tiny dolls so that the dolls can ruminate about them and leave the person free to think of something else.

Collect images of demons holding open the mouth of hell, chained poltergeists, mischievous imps, and other legions of devils, monsters, and the Fantastic to serve as a reminder that reality is only a construct, and at any moment you can choose to shatter the frame of the existing consensus of what reality is and create an entirely different reality with your writing. You can also include sketches of faeries and other wee folk using ragwort as a makeshift horse, as well as angels whispering in the ears of small children and genies imprisoned in colorful glass bottles.

Pick up pieces of paper you find lying on the sidewalk and add those with interesting messages scribbled on them to your notebook; collect secrets from postsecret.blogstop.com; copy interesting sentences from onesentence.org; even twitter can be a source of good material for your notebook.

Creating an Electronic Swipe File

One of the easiest ways to create a swipe file is to do it electronically. You can use social bookmarking services, such as del.icio.us, or note-taking software, or even create a document you keep on your computer. With a digital swipe file you can literally just cut and paste as you find interesting resources on the internet. Skellie from Skelliewag.org keeps her swipe file with Tumblr. She explains that keeping her swipe file with Tumblr allows her to add any elements of the page she’s visiting simply by clicking a button on her toolbar. In addition, keeping an electronic swipe file can make it easier to share your findings with others, should you choose to do so.

Conclusion

Your swipe file is personal and should contain anything that moves or inspires you. Whenever you need ideas for your writing simply sit back in a comfortable chair, make yourself a cup of coffee or tea, and peruse through your swipe file, fully expecting to be inspired. Look through your swipe file at night right before going to bed so that the words and images can marinate in your mind as you sleep. In the morning when you awaken and apply yourself to your task the ideas will explode like multicolored fireworks in the inner recesses of your mind.

Written by Marelisa Fabrega, owner of Abundance Blog at Marelisa Online where you’ll find tips and resources to help you increase your creativity, be more productive, and simplify your life.

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29 thoughts on “Inspiration on Demand: Create a Swipe File

  • Betsy

    Marelisa, this is the best, most comprehensive description of what an inspiration folder/e-file contains. Everybody should have one! Thanks for a great job.

  • Valeria | TimelessLessons

    I’ve always done this, though admittedly in a rather haphazard fashion. A bookmark here, a text file there, a few thoughts I carry around in my head. I guess I have to do it in a more organized way. Thank you for the reminder Marelisa.

  • Marelisa

    Hi Matt: Thank you; I’ve been keeping a notebook now for a couple of years, which functions as my swipe file, and it’s been incredibly useful.

    Hi Dutchschoolkid: A swipe file is really helpful :-)

    Hi Betsy: Thank you! I think it would be really interesting to be able to look at other people’s swipe files :-)

    Hi Valeria: It’s helpful to have all of it in the same place because when you sit down to look through it different images, quotes, and so on start to come together in your mind.

    Hi Trevor: Great!

  • Maya

    I am very much a “tools” person. So this is super cool. Thank you.
    I use index cards and keep all the cards in a plastic coupon organizer file. I love to keep them on my side when I am reading magazines and such. Personally I like the analog tools better than the digital ones – since I am on the computer so much!

    Love your blog too!

  • jessica

    I dont have a swipe file – I have fifty different swipe files. I am not exaggerating. Some people call me a hoarder, but the amount of stuff I actually use from my swipes totally justifies the space it takes up on my desk (and all around my house too)

  • Jim Bessey

    Marelisa, haven’t read anything from you before.

    You have a new fan here, for sure. Great ideas, delightful examples. Never heard it called a Swipe File before, either. I’m taking notes!

    Thanks for an inspiring post.

    ~Jim, at Just Camping Out

  • Ross

    *clears throat*..
    I’ve not used tumblr before, but I like the concept of a conglomeration of ideas being useful for inspiration etc… Will explore this further – I think I’m more inclined to actually USE this rather than a collection of clippings in a shoe box…

    I like your collection of examples – and Aha! Yay, an Australia reference!

  • monica

    Great idea for using tumblr for the swipe file. Tumblr is fantastic! I’ve been using delicious bookmarkets for my “swipes”, but it’s grown to cumbersome proportions. Tumblr would make it easier to browse everything.

  • Douglas

    I’ve been using Evernote for such. Taggable, searchable, reachable.

    My trouble is getting inspiration back out. Once I’ve dropped it in. I try to visit my pile of interestingness on a regular basis rather than as a last ditch before giving in to a creative block and turning on the TV.

  • Marelisa

    Hi Jessica: Well, I guess you have swipe filing almost down to an art form :-)

    Hi Jim: Thank you, most of the examples were taken from my own swipe file.

    Hi Carole: I’m glad you found it inspirational. I guess you could also fill your swipe file with relaxation tips, like hand mudras :-)

    Hi Monica: I’m more of a pen and paper type of person so my swipe file is in a notebook, but I’m seriously considering creating one on Tumblr (so I can add youtube videos and such).

    Hi Douglas: I think that if you visit your swipe file regularly you’re less likely to get to the “creative block” point. Once you hit the creative block point getting inspired is more of an uphill battle.

  • Marelisa

    Hi Ross: Australia is filled with great examples for getting inspired. In another post I wrote about Ken Done and how he had the idea that his paintings would look great on bed sheets. The bed sheet company couldn’t visualize his paintings on sheets so he went home, took out a white bed sheet, and proceeded to paint on it. I’m sure you know the rest of the story :-)

  • Dot

    Hi Marelisa, I had to come by and see your guest post, and it’s great! I used to do this years ago with a scrapbook. Now I’m thinking I might do it digitally with a page on my blog, but I’ll check out the software you suggested too. Interesting that Evelyn writes about her vision board and you about your swipe file — they’re very similar, yet for different purposes.

    By the way, Twitter brought me here, so yes, I get Twitter now. :-)

  • Marelisa

    Hi Dot: I hadn’t thought about the similarities between a swipe file and a vision board, but you’re right that in a way they’re similar. I find lots of useful information by following the conversations on twitter :-)

  • bfwebster

    I’m working on a series of novels, and a few months back I started a folder on my laptop where I store copies of photographs, paintings, and images I find online for exactly that purpose. For example, I have written one entire chapter whose physical setting matches a Victorian-era painting I ran across.

    It’s nice to put a name to this technique and it’s great to have the additional ideas of what to ‘swipe’. ..bruce..

  • Lance

    Hi Mare!
    How did I not know about this until today?? It’s great to see you over here – what a pleasant surprise!

    I love the idea of a swipe file (have you talked about it before?) – I’ve recently been working on getting this going – the non electronic version – and it’s just a really great way for me to come up with ideas. Great stuff (as usual!).

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  • Sandra

    I have only recently heard about swipe files have just started mine. I love your idea keeping a notebook of things which inspire you – great advice – thank you.

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