Creating and Maintaining Writer’s Vertical Files

Filing cabinets can be used to create "vertical files" containing bits of information on your favorite topics, to be used for your wriiting.
Filing cabinets can be used to create "vertical files" containing bits of information on your favorite topics, to be used for your wriiting. | Source

By Joan Whetzel

In my writing space (office), I have my personal version of vertical files. Normally I go through them every six months to weed out outdated materials. The last time I went through them, though, it had been about 2 years since I went through them, so it wass a bit overdo. But it was definitely worth the trip to the filing cabinets.

Personal Vertical Files vs. the Library Version

Libraries worldwide keep vertical files in which they store local and regional or State information in file folders. The information they keep in these folders include magazine or newspaper articles, brochures, on other small pieces of information about people, locations and events that were important to that city, county, state or region. They are meant to provide supplementary and anecdotal information for researchers. The files often provide a springboard for researchers to go off in directions they often hadn’t considered. They provide historical information, as well as interviews with experts and events surrounding important aspects of the region (exports, historical events and characters, arts), to name a few.

My version of vertical files, are similar in that they contain magazine and newspaper articles, brochures, and pictures as well as downloaded internet information all contained in file folders in filing cabinets. (My file cabinets are actually standard office version vertical filing cabinets.) The topics of my files is what’s different. I collect odds and ends of information and weird details on my favorite subjects, or subjects I think I might want to write on. I love to collect information. My problem? If I don’t weed out stuff from time to time, the files will take over.

What to Clear Out

When weeding stuff out of one's writer's files, look for these things.

  1. Is the information still relevant? Information that has been around for 10 years or more may be considered stale or dated. Frequently the information has been updated in recent years. This is particularly true of information on gadgets, computers, and the ever changing political environment. If the information seems old, dated, or no longer relevant to the current state of affairs in the world, consider pulling the information from the file and dumping it in the circular file – a.k.a. the garbage.
  2. "Why did I save that?" Sometimes the information or pictures or intriguing advertisements that were clipped and saved look like they carry a detail or a story twist that could make a story great. However, after time, these little nuggets show themselves for the fool's gold that they truly are. So why did I save them? Well, all I can say is that it seemed like a good idea at the time. So, out they go.
  3. Copies. When colleting bits and pieces of information, sometimes duplicates get added to my files. It’s not till the periodic weed out sessions that that it becomes appparent that duplicates have been deposited in the files which, while they may have been written by different authors, they still hold the same information. You guessed it, the copies get deep-sixed.

What I Found When Cleaning My Writer's Files

First, I found that I was no longer interested in a few of the topics, so I tossed the files. Second, I found a few of the files were too large. So instead of tossing information, I split the folders into 2 or more files, by subdividing the bits and pieces into subcategories.

Probably most important, I realized that I had been tossing around some of the topics I’ve been wanting to write on. Going through the files, my imagination was set on fire. I discovered I had enough details and ideas to write a few complete stories. A few ideas will simmer on the back burner until I can collect enough additional information to write the story. So my file weeding session turned into an idea mining session. I think I'm going to be busy for awhile.

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Comments 8 comments

AmaTainted profile image

AmaTainted 5 years ago from Texas

i have one of these too! its a great tool...


joanwz profile image

joanwz 5 years ago from Katy, Texas Author

I use mine all the time. (I just don't weed it out often enough.) I like using it for generating ideas or collecting information to help write stories.


mjfarns profile image

mjfarns 5 years ago from Bloomington, Illinois USA

Great hub! For me the problem is never about not having enough ideas, it's about having too many. Your article suggests a good approach for managing those ideas. Thanks for writing it!


joanwz profile image

joanwz 5 years ago from Katy, Texas Author

I have the same problem, too many ideas. That's why I have to go through the files and weed out some to the ones I find I will never write, or that turn out to not be useful as I once thought. It's hard to throw away ideas.though.


Arlene V. Poma 5 years ago

While "cleaning" my home, I've run across notebooks with all of my notes going back to 10 years ago. Usually, I purge, but there's a part of me that wants to dig for information I can use. Voted up, bookmarked, useful, interesting and AWESOME. I need all the help I can get.


joanwz profile image

joanwz 5 years ago from Katy, Texas Author

I always find it fascinating to hear what resources other writers use to mine for ideas. Older notebooks! I hadn't thought about that one. I'll have to start going through some of mine. Thanks for the idea.


Arlene V. Poma 5 years ago

Hahahaha. You're welcome! Make sure you beef up your notes to help you remember what was so important to you back then. I have little phrases that were written so long ago, and I don't know what they mean. I think, out of all my interesting newspaper clippings, I have this 20-year-old one from the San Francisco Chronicle about a young, handsome doctor who took a bike ride into the Los Angeles hills and never came back. I don't know why I kept that so long, but I always thought there would be a piece of fiction to write on that. Unfortunately, in real life, he was never heard from again. This happened long before "cold cases" came out.


joanwz profile image

joanwz 5 years ago from Katy, Texas Author

Arlene V. Poma: That does sound like an excellent idea for a fiction piece. I could see all kinds of possibilities on that one. And I too have run across notes that I left myself and couldn't remember what was so important about them when I wrote them down. I've had to make it a habit of writing better notes to myself also.

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