Creating a People List

Thursday, June 06, 2024
How do you keep track of all your writing related info? I have books about intriguing topics. Newspaper and magazine articles stuffed into the idea file in my file cabinet. I’m also a list keeper. Lists of plotlines. Lists of topics for essays. Lists of agents. Lists of publishers. 

There used to be business cards too. But business cards have gone the way of the Rolodex and with them, the memory of many interesting people I meet. In the past few weeks I’ve touched base – either in real life or virtually -- with so many unusual people:

  1. A race car driver
  2. A writer who accidentally wrote a blog that became a novel --- in Sweden
  3. A woman trying to open her own home bakery
  4. A kitchen and bathroom designer
  5. A fireworks technician
  6. Several marathon runners
  7. A tween who started his own business
  8. Someone who attended a Taylor Swift concert in London.
  9. A volunteer in a program introducing middle and high school students to careers in the medical field
  10. A blueberry salesperson
All have fascinating stories to tell but none fit anything I’m working with right now. In the past I would promise myself to file these people away in my memory for later. When I had time to find the ideal market or angle. The problem is that later never seems to come. I get busy with this or that and eventually that fascinating person is just a vague wisp of a memory of something I should have jumped on but didn’t. Names, places, contact information fades away.

For years I’ve been telling myself I have a terrible memory. I promise myself I will remember these fascinating people and for a time I do. Then I forget. Turns out I don’t have a bad memory.

According to researchers at the University of Southern California, forgetting isn’t a failure of your brain to work properly. Instead, it’s your brain working properly, weeding out what it determines is unimportant knowledge. That’s why you remember where you store the slow cooker but not the ant traps. You and your family rely on that slow cooker for some great stew every winter. You haven’t used an ant trap since the invasion of 2014 so although you know there are ant traps somewhere in the house, sometime in the past decade your brain did some sorting and tossed ant trap location information into the not needed pile. But now you need that info! So this sorting business is a little tricky.

One day the practical part of my brain (let’s call her Ms. Brain) is in the middle of the sorting process and realizes there are no articles about blueberries, fireworks or race cars in my immediate future. Obviously, she should jettison the blueberry salesperson, marathon runners and race car driver memories. Ms. Brain is certain she’s doing a good job kicking them to the curb. The difficulty occurs months later when the Writer decides to query a magazine with an article about dangerous jobs and can’t remember the name of that race car driver or fireworks technician! The Writer is frustrated with struggling to remember while I’m certain Ms. Brain is saying, “Seriously, you have never written anything about racing. You expected me to keep the racecar driver?”

Since Ms. Brain and The Writer can't agree, I’ve started a new list. The People List. Now, when I meet interesting people I immediately add them to my People List along with any details like how we met, their contact info, what makes them an interesting person. I’ve also found it’s a great way to encourage people to keep me apprised of updates in their story. “I don’t have any articles featuring fill-in-the-blank right now. However, you’re so fascinating I’d like to add you to my Interesting People List. Please let me know if you have any new developments.”

Now, when I come across a new writing market or need an idea for a story, instead of struggling to pull back discarded memories I have my handy People List to prompt me. I may have had no direction when I met these people but with time, sometimes an article idea begins to take shape. But it’s a lot easier if I remember people’s names!

How do you remember interesting people and facts that you may one day use in your writing?

Jodi M. Webb writes from her home in the Pennsylvania mountains. She is hoping to meet lots of interesting people this summer to add to her People List. She's also a blog tour manager for WOW-Women on Writing and a freelance writer for anyone who will have her. Get to know her @jodiwebbwrites,  Facebook and blogging at Words by Webb.


Sue Bradford Edwards said...

Honestly, "blueberry salesmen" begs for a story or article.

I keep a list in my bulleted journal. I have lists of books I've read, movies I've seen, plot ideas, character ideas, and interesting people.

Renee Roberson said...

Sue, I had the same thought when I read "blueberry salesman." What an interesting job! This is such an important reminder, Jodi. I need to make a list of all the experts and interesting people I've met over the years--I know I've met a ton.

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