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Scrapbooking for literary inspiration

Updated on August 23, 2016
Stephen Austen profile image

S.P. Austen (1960- 2020) was an independent author writing on a diversity of subjects and genres. He passed away on June 30, 2020


A picture paints a thousand words...

A lot of writers struggle to find inspiration for their work; I would like to offer some tips of my own that work like a dream for me.

For many years now, I have kept a scrapbook; several in fact. Each one is filled with photographs cut out from magazines or newspapers. I have them categorized into various subjects, for example, I have a scrapbook on People, another on Animals, another on Scenery/Nature, another on Buildings and a Miscellaneous scrapbook with an assortment of images that don't fall into a particular category.

I like this old-fashioned way of doing things and I like the physical scrapbook in my hands, but for many people, Pinterest might be a better option, especially as you can create different boards for different subjects. There is also a wider range of images to select from.

When I'm writing, I open up my scrapbooks and put sticky page markers in them when I want to quickly reference an image. I use these images to describe someone's face, or a scene perhaps, or the interior of a building. The source of inspiration coming from these images is absolutely indispensable. It makes my writing richer and helps to bring it all to life.

We have all heard that 'a picture paints a thousand words' and using scrapbooks really does bring this maxim to life in a literal and literary sense. Imagine if you are lost on a good short story idea for that crime thriller competition that you want to enter that offers $5,000 to the winner; get out the scrapbooks. Just a few random images will bring a whole world of inspiration. Writer's block need not exist as long as you have recourse to your scrapbooks.

As an example, you now select a few random pictures of let's say the following:

In one picture we have a man's face looking at us. He's hard, he has a lifetime of experience written in his face. He might want to kill you. He could be a gang leader perhaps. Another image shows a pair of hands with handcuffs on them. The hands are linked together in prayer. Another picture is of a man pressing the keypad on his phone. He's smiling. Ringing his girlfriend perhaps? Another image is of a girl in a yoga posture with the sunset behind her. Another is of hands clinking wine glasses together. Another one depicts a rather scary, gothic building. Try composing a story line around those images. Think about that now for a few minutes.

Do we have a possible story to tell here? A picture painting a thousand words for that competition that you badly want to win?

Our photo references from our scrapbook could give us a hard-man criminal, who threatens the Yoga girl. Her boyfriend on the phone owes this character money, and obliviously calls her not knowing what danger he's put her in while he happily drinks wine with friends. The gothic building is the mobster's den. But who is in the handcuffs?

You decide. You are the writer who sets the scene using the tools of imagination and striking imagery. It can be whatever you make of it, and that is the pure joy of scrapbooking and using images for inspiration and source material. If you can't get a story together from scrapbook images then there's no helping you!

So start collecting pictures wherever you find them. Stick them in scrapbooks and before long, you will never ever fall short on ideas.

In addition, I have well over 100 short story and novel ideas noted down and they fill a huge folder. I never ever throw an idea away and I never commit it to memory. Every piece of sudden inspiration gets noted down and I keep it for future reference. Many of the briefest ideas have become stories and others are just waiting for the right moment to be written.

I find often, that years later, I see the concept written down and I feel inspired to write it. I never, ever, get writer's block. That concept is totally alien to me. Noting down a piece of momentary inspiration need only be brief; often it's priceless. Don't worry about the detail, the how's and why's of writing it and how it will all come together. Just note the idea. The rest will inevitably follow.

Even if all you get is a good title for a story, write it down. Lawrence of Arabia called his autobiographical account of his exploits in the desert amongst the Arabs "Seven Pillars of Wisdom." That title had nothing to do with the content of the story at all. He just liked the title and wrote it down. When he finally wrote about his adventures in the desert the title found it's home.

So, scrapbook and write every little idea down, and you won't go far wrong in your source material for inspiration.

Cast your vote for Scrapbooking for literary inspiration

© 2016 S P Austen


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