The Infamous Purple Box


There it is, folks.  The purple box you’ve heard so much about.  When an idea pops into my head (usually at the most inopportune moment), this is where I jot it down.  I have the box divided into four categories, and I use brightly colored index cards just to keep it visually appealing.  The categories are:

1.  Story lines. Interestingly, this is the category with the fewest number of cards.  I rarely start with an idea for a story line.

2. Characters/names.  Anytime I come across an unusual name, I jot it down.  I was travelling through Ohio once and saw an exit sign for an oddly named expressway.  It was just screaming to be put into a story.  I was going to use it for the name of a secondary character, but it’s just too wonderful for that.  This guy is a lead character, though he may be something of a nit-wit.  I haven’t decided much about him, except that his story will be fun to read aloud.

3. Titles.  This is the category with the greatest number of cards.  I know a lot of people have trouble coming up with titles; but for whatever reason, the title often comes first for me.  There’s a magic to it, almost like a spell.  A title may float around in my head for years, whispering something I can’t quite hear.  The story is in there somewhere.

4. Lines/words.  This is where I put those phrases or lines that come out of nowhere but become the foundation for the story.  I sometimes write dialogue in rhymes, and these lines come to me in an almost musical fashion.  Much more frustrating are the times I hear the rhythm of the words but not the words themselves.  In that case, a card may have nothing more on it than, “Da-dum, da-dum, da-dum, dum, dum.”

I do keep a small notebook with me when I go out, just in case the muse drops by for a visit.  Anything he leaves behind is written down and transferred to the purple box when I get home.  That box has prevented the loss of some pretty great ideas.  The cards afford plenty of room to jot down any additional ideas I might have about the story or character at that moment, before it disappears into the ether.

The purple box is probably the most organized part of my writing process.  From there, it can get pretty messy.  I keep all the notes I make once I start writing; and I put them all in a file, along with a copy of the finished product.  A story rarely ends up as it started, but the germ of the idea is not wasted or lost.  The pages I keep remind me that a story seldom comes to me fully formed, and that getting to the finished product is a lot of work.  I’m encouraged by that, especially when I’m struggling with a story that doesn’t want to cooperate.

So here’s to the purple box, the one place the muse can’t possibly escape.

7 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. johnkutensky
    Jan 30, 2015 @ 15:47:38

    I like it! I’ve just been filling up my gmail inbox with all various stuff, deleting things that no longer appeal to me. I might have to get a little box like this, though. It seems much more convenient.


  2. Liz
    Jan 30, 2015 @ 21:56:53

    Ooh, I like this. Beats my pile of post-its and scraps of paper!


  3. mlrover
    Feb 10, 2015 @ 10:09:39

    You’re so organized. I’ve got all those ideas swirling around in my bean, cluttering up my head, and started to put them in PC files, tons of ideas in case I run out of something new. Too many plot boilers and not enough time.


  4. kateforddalgleish
    Aug 11, 2015 @ 12:30:20

    I love this idea! I often pass road signs and think “right, I’m going to use that in a story” but I always forget to note them down! Thanks for the inspiration!


    • MJ Belko
      Aug 11, 2015 @ 12:44:48

      Good luck with your writing. I’ve been away from it for a couple of months for reasons beyond my control, but still have a few picture book manuscripts circulating. Here’s to our success!


      • kateforddalgleish
        Aug 11, 2015 @ 12:47:37

        Thanks so much, and good luck to you too! I’ve just read your blog about the spider and you’re right, I do too much of the sitting around waiting! (Although I tend to just splatter them and make my husband clean the wall haha)

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