The Writer as Magpie (Writer’s Collecting habits)









I don’t know if you have magpies overseas, but in Australia we have tons of them on every tree on every street and when they’re not dive-bombing children on pushbikes they collect anything shiny or fanciful.

I collect model trains. I like watching the trains going around, but what I love is finding “things” to add to the layout; a piece of chocolate foil wrapper makes a 1:76 tin shed wall or roof; a small strip of flyscreen painted silver and turned on its diagonal makes a chain link fence for a warehouse. It gives me a great sense of achievement to see my skill at re-purposing found objects.

But this is a narrow field of collecting compared to the “writer as magpie” collecting I do, where I’m no longer bound by the real world collecting concerns: the type of place I look in or shop at, or by preconceived notions of the purpose for which it is sourced.

In art, bricolage can look/sound like “a collage of images from different times and places” (Barker 2002: 17). When I collect writing snippets like this; there is no such thing as too big a bricolage. I have computer software that lets me collect them all: images, web pages, audio, snippets from my notebook of dialogue, expression, mannerisms. story ideas, etc. and then lets me file them all away and be available whenever I need inspiration with a simple quick search or a browse through.

I’m very visual so I collect a lot of pictures and file them under characters, landscapes – all manner of possible story starters.

If all the above fails, I’ll hit the internet – newspapers, science articles, faceless Facebook comments about problems, friends, ex-friends, everything is fair game to kick start my muse.

Can I have unproductive collecting? I don’t think so! I sometimes find that even the act of “filing” something leads me to something else that sparks the idea I didn’t know I was seeking.

How do you collect and sort your writer’s ideas?

Barker, Chris (2004), The Sage Dictionary of Cultural Studies, London: SAGE

photo by: NAPARAZZI