How Doing Writing Inventory Will Jumpstart Your Creativity

Monday, July 06, 2020

Last Wednesday, Sue blogged about jumpstarting your writing this July. I have to tell you, I needed to read that. So, inspired by her post, I reflected on another way to get myself writing this summer:

Doing a writing inventory.

If you aren't familiar with the term, businesses do inventory so they know how much product they have on hand. It's a way of stopping everything and seeing exactly what you have on hand. 

You see, over the past few months, I have been in a fog and creative writing has been the furthest from my mind. I had nearly forgotten about a flash fiction piece I submitted until I received a rejection letter. Flowery language aside, I felt like this rejection letter was telling me two things about this story 1) my story didn't make sense and 2) my story has been told before. For a moment I thought about ditching the story completely and then the quiet, creative voice stopped me. Instead, I sought feedback (which ended up being surprisingly positive) and after a few edits, I plan on sending the story out again. 

After logging the rejection on my submissions spreadsheet, I realized so many of my stories hadn't been submitted in weeks, if not longer. A couple I had even forgotten about recently. I realized, it was time to do inventory. 

Doing inventory on your writing means you are taking stock of what you have and where you at in each piece.

I recommend taking out a notebook and poring over your files or handwritten stories and logging all the pieces that you've been working on, even if it's been months since you've touched it.

Do a checklist for each piece that considers the following:

* Is the first draft complete?
* Is it typed? (Am I the only one who lets handwritten stories sit around untyped for months?)
* Have I done the first round of revising?
* Have I asked for and received feedback? 
* Have I made revised the story based on the feedback?
* Has this been submitted recently?
* Can I submit this elsewhere, simultaneously?
* Can I edit this piece to match the theme or prompt of a particular competition?

Your answer to each of the above questions will give you a clue about what you can do next.

I have also a treasure trove of half-finished pieces and story starters that have been left untouched. You may want to do an inventory on those as well. Consider these questions:

* What feelings am I trying to evoke with this piece?
* What does my character want?
* What is the setting?
* What is the inciting incident?
* What problem is my character dealing with?
* How can I make things worse/more complicated for this character?
* What is the resolution I am trying for?
* What's missing from this piece?
* Is there a writing contest that I can use to help me build on this story?

Of course, that is just the start of the questions you may ask yourself about various ideas and half-finished stories. Keep your writing weakness in mind as you take stock of your ideas. For example, if your characters never seem to want something, ask yourself if you have given them a "want" as you do inventory. Also, consider marrying two ideas together, whether it's swapping out settings, swapping main (or supporting) characters, or swapping inciting incidents.

One of my favorite activities is poring over old notebooks and running into a half-finished piece that I find amazing all over again. That is essentially what you are doing by taking writing inventory. You are examining the treasure trove of stock that you have and making use of it. You may just find your writing amazing all over again.

Once you are done taking stock, start giving yourself a timeline for each piece. Give yourself a specific weekly or monthly goal, such as finishing one half-finished story each week. Also, use the status of each story and idea as a guideline. If you have more stories needing feedback than you do submittable stories, it's time to get feedback. If you are lacking in new ideas, consider making that your challenge this month. 

Hopefully with this in mind, you will be able to get out of your writing slump and get writing again. 

Nicole Pyles is a freelance writer and Blog Tour Manager. You can check out her writing portfolio here, particularly if you are in need of a writer at this time. Also, check out her latest blog, Say hi on Twitter @BeingTheWriter.


Margo Dill said...

This is good advice. I have to do this with my published work because I think all but one of my books have publishers that are going out of or have gone out of business. And I have the rights back. I have tons of stories that are just sitting around. Of course, some of it is time for me, but I could do some stuff with some of these. I think every acceptance, every submission, maybe even a nice rejection lights a fire. Thanks for the push!

Renee Roberson said...

Helpful advice, Nicole! I also do this as a way to find blog content I can update or repurpose. I realized recently that I've written so many columns and feature articles for local magazines that don't get published digitally--so why not put them on my website for blog content? I also use contests as a push to either finish something or rework a story that's been languishing. I need to do this again soon.

Sue Bradford Edwards said...

I know this is something that I could benefit from although it would probably be mind blowing to realize how much writing is just sitting around in file folders (both paper and electronic).

Funny how my piece prompted you to consider this and know you are nudging me along!

Nikkia Nealey said...

This is an excellent idea! Thank you. It's incredible how organization can spark life into half-finished pieces.

P.S. I too leave my stories untyped in notebooks. I'm motivated to change that!

Sioux Roslawski said...

Nicole--Great post and wonderful advice. Unfortunately, I'm allergic to any kind of list. An inventory is too close to a list for me to embrace it.

I AM intrigued by writers who have pieces handwritten in notebooks and journals. I used to think (30 years ago) that the only way I could begin a piece was handwriting it. Once I "spent" that initial inspiration, only then could I use the computer to continue. Thankfully, I no longer feel that way. I begin just about everything on the computer. That way, the writing goes faster AND I don't have to thumb through dozens of writing journals, looking for a piece.

Nicole Pyles said...

@Margi - Best of luck to your work Margo! It's so easy to neglect work waiting in the recesses, so I hope this gave you the boost you need!

@Renee - I love that idea using articles in your blog posts! Yeah and contests help me feel re-inspired about a piece of writing.

@Sue - Oh it really is! So many pieces that I've left forgotten.

@ Nikkia - Yeah! Going through pieces like this really helps breathe new life. :) And I'm totally with you - typing we will go!

@Sioux - I totally used to feel that way about writing new pieces! I sometimes feel attached to the handwritten process but typing is so much faster. Weirdly, my feelings about that change often!

Cathy C. Hall said...

I used to have a very detailed notebook of all my work when I was freelancing, but when I started working on longer manuscripts, I didn't need a notebook so much as a piece of paper. :-)

But thank you for the reminder that writing is a BUSINESS and I should probably get down to business again! :-)

Jeanine DeHoney said...

Wow. A writing inventory. So many gems in this article that I will be implementing. Thank you.

Nicole Pyles said...

@Cathy - Absolutely!! Get down to it :)

@Jeanine - Thank you so much! I love hearing that :)

Angela Mackintosh said...

Great advice, Nicole! I have unfinished essays in various stages... I just did a quick count and see at least 29 that are 90% completed. Hmmm... I have to wonder why I give up on them when they're almost done! I also just realized that I can recycle some of the pieces for another project. Thank you! :)

Nicole Pyles said...

@Angela - I'm so glad this helped you! And I hope you get to use those pieces you started :)

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