10 Reasons Every Writer Should Keep an Idea Box

How many times have I heard a (professional) writer tell me, “I really need an idea box?” Let me count the ways …

What is an idea box? Simply put: it’s a box you keep close to your favorite writing spot (for me, on my desk) where you stash all those great ideas scribbled on random pieces of paper. Personally, I carry a small notebook in my purse and jot down all kinds of phrases throughout the day.

Why do this?

Well, here are 10 reasons EVERY writer should keep an idea box:

1. It forces you to observe (hey, otherwise you can’t fill the box with ideas).

2. It solidifies the title of “writer” in your blood.

3. It keeps you looking at the world from different perspectives.

4. It kills Writer’s Block upon an attack (stuck? Just shuffle through your idea box).

5. It prevents the, “Oh crud, what was that great idea I thought of last night? It was classic, and now it’s gone!”

6. It helps you become more creative.

7. It prevents boredom.

8. It makes you feel important when your friends “oooo” and “ahhhh” over it.

9. It diversifies your stories and makes them better.

10. IT’S FUN! (well, at least for us writers)

So tell me …

Do YOU keep an idea box? Why or why not? And if so, how has the idea box helped you grow as a writer?

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Perfecting the Chocolate Chip Cookie

I’m a foodie–with an unfortunate addiction to sweets. That’s why I clicked with Leah Singer, the second writer I’m introducing, who’s part of a special networking project (a few weeks ago, you met V.V. Denman).

Leah blogs at “Leah’s Thoughts,” and like me, she loves food, family and words. I’d like you to join me in welcoming Leah as a guest blogger today, where she draws a profound conclusion for writers, from chocolate chip cookies:

Perfecting the Chocolate Chip Cookie

By Guest Blogger Leah Singer

I’ve spent many years of my life obsessed with making (what I believe) is the perfect chocolate chip cookie. I had a picture in my mind of what this perfect cookie looked like – soft, chewy, puffy with texture (not flat!), sweet, but a little savory too. And I’d stop at nothing to get it that way.

I tried everything – changing the oven temperature; more baking powder; less baking soda; hundreds of recipes; Crisco instead of butter; semi-sweet chips; milk chocolate chips; refrigerating the dough; using vanilla pudding; you name it, I tried it. Yet still, nothing I baked came close to what I considered the perfect cookie.

Countless times I’d try a new recipe, pull the tray out of the oven, and … flat cookies – my nemesis. “But they taste great,” my husband would reassure me. But his words meant nothing to me. The cookies were a failure, and I could not fathom eating them.

Interestingly, I realized through this journey that the process of “perfecting” the perfect cookie was how I used to approach writing.

I was one of those people that drafted something and thought, This is it! Perfection. I seemed to be under the illusion that I could write something and it would be immediately perfect. And we writers know that is just simply not true. Rarely do we ever write something that’s perfect. There’s always editing or word-smithing that can be done.

I’ve considered myself a writer all my life. But one reason I never started a blog until somewhat recently was the fear that my posts wouldn’t be perfect. Once I realized and accepted that nothing is perfect – and that the imperfections are what makes thing special – my creative juices started flowing.

During my “day job,” I’m a speechwriter at a large university. I have learned so much about the process of writing in the short time I’ve had this job. I NEVER write a speech and it’s ready to go after the first draft. That’s just the beginning of the speech. I sometimes go through 5 – 10 versions of “perfecting” the remarks. And that’s okay. Because I know what I’ll finish with will be better than what I started with. And what I learn while “perfecting” the speech is exactly what makes the writing good.

For writers (and bakers), it’s not perfection one should strive for; it’s the process of perfecting. That’s where the magic happens, the ingredients come together, and the learning takes place. The perfecting is the beauty of the writing process.

With respect to the chocolate chip cookies, I’ve since eased up on myself and realized there is not the perfect cookie. (Or at least I’m not meant to bake it.) Each cookie I made had its strength and weakness; its perfections and imperfections. I accepted that fact and I’ve learned so much about baking along the way. And, oh yeah, I now bake cookie bars instead.


By day, Leah Singer is a freelance writer, as well as a speechwriter and communicationsprofessional for the largest university in San Diego, Calif. By night, Leah blogs about family, motherhood, traditions, cooking, her crazy animal family, and other such topics at Leah’s Thoughts. Blogging is a way for Leah to journal, share ideas, essays, musings, frustrations, recipes, funny stories, and – most importantly – exercise her lifelong passion for writing. Read more about Leah at: www.leahsthoughts.com.

Chompie’s for the Writer’s Soul (Special Post)

I’m shocked I’m not a fat tub of lard today–after all the Chompie’s I eat.

This is the first line of my first guest post, as an official blogger (I guess). The topic? The power of comfort food for creativity.

I’ve been published in magazines all over, but I’ve only been blogging about six months. Therefore, when fellow professional writer and blogger, Leah Singer, invited me to post on her site, “Leah’s Thoughts,” I couldn’t resist!

Come and join the fun. Read about how Chompie’s has changed my life as a writer, how comfort food can inspire YOUR creativity, and share which foods relax you. Read my guest post, Chompie’s for the Writer’s Soul.”

Colon Hydrotherapy in Your Backyard

The light couldn’t turn green fast enough as I sat in my car, jaw clenched in horror, staring at the awkward, hand-painted sign protruding from the side of the road.

Google images

“Colon hydrotherapy in your backyard. Call . . .”

I took a mental note of that number–to avoid it at all costs. Only in my neighborhood.

First of all, I don’t know too much about colon hydrotherapy, or exactly how it works. And I’m a health writer.

But the thought of learning the answer to those questions–in my own backyard, nonetheless–was enough to keep me awake in fear for the next few nights. By the end of the week, the sign was gone. Gee, I wonder why?

I began contemplating then. Does one need a license to perform such an immaculate procedure? Perhaps, should something of this nature be executed in the sterile confounds of–say–a medical clinic?

Apparently, no. At least in Laveen, Ariz.

Don’t look far for writing ideas

I’ve often come across individuals who believe they have no solid material for good writing. After all, they haven’t traveled the world and lived among the Aborigines.

However, some of our best ideas come from within, or right next door. I live a seemingly uneventful life to anyone who knows me:

Car, house, cat, boyfriend, 9-5 job. Yada yada yada.

But, I live in a neighborhood where the local pre-teens play a solid game of streetball Sunday afternoon, while my cowboy neighbors click-clock down my block on their horses. And, the company with whom I share the confines of a vicinity feel the need to advertise their colon hydrotherapy services on the side of the road.

Hmmm. If I were Larry David, I’d have the premise for my next Seinfeld episode.

When it all boils down, the best writers are those who OBSERVE their surroundings. What do you observe, and how has it helped your writing?

Why do YOU Write? (take the poll)

I’ve struggled this past week. I’ve struggled to come up with a cool, new creative post that also educates.

After all, I’ve been gaining readership and I don’t want to lose my newest engagers now! I posted to Twitter and Facebook, asking my friends and followers what they’d want to read about writing.

And then, this one girl answered.

From Twitter. Her screen name is @Xenani. She linked me to a recent blog post she wrote, “Write for Yourself.” And it got me thinking. Lately, I’ve been writing short stories and my book—I even entered a short story contest through Columbia University’s Literary Magazine in New York.

Yet I found myself struggling with a new blog post idea (can anyone say “Writer’s Block?”). My new tweep reminded me why I write in the first place. I write because I love it. Remembering this simple fact, about WHY I write, gave me the idea for this blog post. Writer’s Block solved!

So, here’s my question to you: Why do YOU write?

Take the poll below, then check the results. This one’s strictly for you–to force you to look deep down and think. And of course, it’s fun to see what others think!

Always remember the reason you first began writing. Reach to those roots when you hit Writer’s Block, and find inspiration!

Looking for additional writing inspiration? Check out my wildly successful post, “Be the Chicken Nugget in a Bag of Vegetables.” Or subscribe to my blog (upper righthand corner) for email notifications of future posts about writing tips, funny stories, and media strategy.

Writer’s Block Anonymous

God, I hate when I can’t write. I propose the Writers Guild begin a new subgroup:

Writer’s Block Anonymous.

“My name is Shari Lopatin, and I’m a blocked writer.” I think every professional writer needs this, including myself. After more than five years as a professional writer, I’ll sit down at my computer to write a short narrative, or short story, or work on my novel, and nothing flows anymore. Why the hell is that?

I know I haven’t written in this blog for months, and I attribute much of that to the endless hell that Phoenix bestows upon its inhabitants during the summer (in other words, I haven’t done a darn thing on my currently non-existent organic garden because nothing can grow in this desolate oven).  So instead today, I’m sitting here, staring at my computer screen, blindly rummaging through the endless dribble that is Facebook, and wondering where my mind went?

I remember during high school, I had an English teacher named Mrs. Kroeppler (she now has a different last name, I believe). During my senior year, I took an elective from her: creative writing. The things my mind developed during that class–well, I’ll leave it there. But now, I wonder what happened to my innate ability to foreshadow, create mysterious symbolism, develop characters with such depth that they’d automatically be struggling internally in a man vs. man conflict?


I’m already giving myself a headache. But I refuse, REFUSE to be one of those writers who begins something, then never finishes. OK, so maybe I’ve done that–several times, actually–but I refuse to continue! I now understand why some of our history’s greatest authors have spiraled into madness while suffering from their own genius.

The frustrations of being a writer. If only we had that Writer’s Block Anonymous. I’d be the first to stand and droop my head in shame.