Toe Tags N’ Body Bags: What is a “Writer’s Morgue”?

I was postulating about how I have trouble putting value into my own work — that I’ve been taking issue with what should be considered a part of my body of work and what is just scraps of prose that belong in my Writer’s Morgue.

Crickets. What is a “Writer’s Morgue?” Is that a real thing? Yes …I think so anyways. I can’t imagine that I’m the only one who uses the phrase, am I?

By its most simple definition, a writer’s morgue is just somewhere that you keep things that inspire you to write, that you may want to write someday, or a topic that you want to investigate to potentially write about some day. Your writer’s morgue can be a filing cabinet, a folder, a notebook — my writer’s morgue is my Google Drive. My favorite way of thinking of my morgue is to think of myself as Victor Von Frankenstein and my writer’s morgue is my laboratory — I’m putting together words like Frankenstein put together body parts to create his being, in hopes that a story worth reading develops. (Side tracked thought: is it irony if an incomplete story about working in a morgue is in your writer’s morgue?)

I first heard a phrase like it when I was studying art in high school — a book that I read had described keeping an “artist’s morgue,” same concept: keeping a pile of things that inspire you. Some things that might go into your artist morgue would be pictures of famous pieces that spoke to you, pictures of landscapes you’d want to paint, magazine clippings, handbills from museums, etc. It was a practice that had served me well as a creative person and creating a writer’s morgue made perfect sense.

How I organize my Writer’s Morgue – Having a system to manage your thoughts and ideas makes them accessible — it’s like having a functional table of contents. The whole point of keeping a morgue is having a place to keep an idea and then being able to find out exactly where you put it when you need to recall it. This is my system and may not work for you (actually, even creating a morgue may not work for you — tracking your inspirations is a very personal ordeal).

 

  • I use Google Drive — You know what’s awesome about writing on Google Drive? It backs up everything you write, as you write it. There is no need to fear the blue screen of death, power outages, system crashes. Some folks don’t trust the interweb, but this is my system and I like it.
  • I create a folder for each type of project I could be working on – I used to live a life of chaos and disorder, especially because I am terrible about naming things. What happened was I had no folders and a thousand documents named “Untitled.” To quote Negan: I shut that sh** down, no exceptions. In my drive , I have folders for:

 

      1. Novels
      2. Short Stories
      3. Poems
      4. Screen Plays
      5. Blogs
      6. Story Ideas

 

  • Inside of each folder, I have sub-folders – For me, it wasn’t enough to just have a folder for novels or short stories — inside of those folders, I created a folder for “Published/Released” and “Abandoned.” Everything that isn’t inside of a sub folder is free to be dissected or transplanted. This goes back to the entire purpose of a morgue: I have half-finished thoughts and ideas that could turn into bigger ideas and projects.
  • I place emphasis on filenames – My next novel, “Days of the Phoenix” went through a lot of evolution before it became the final product — the first inception was a book about an accountant who hated his life, the next was about a high school party, and then finally what it is. The three stories that held the title of Days of the Phoenix are three stories completely unrelated to each other, but kind of where because the title spent some time marinating in my Writer’s Morgue. When I named these files, they were named “DOTP_Accountant,” “DOTP_Rave,” and “DOTP_Beach.” It keeps the morgue tidy and functional.
  • My cellphone is like a hearse – If the entire idea of a writer’s morgue is to keep half-formed ideas fresh and indexed, then you need a way to put entries in on the go. Any creative person will tell you that ideas for stories and works of art rarely come at convenient moments. When I say that my phone is like a hearse, I mean that I can open up a Google Doc and jot down my idea and it is saved right to my Writer’s Morgue. If I’m driving, I can use the talk-to-text and get the same function — boom; idea is saved for a moment when I can work on it.
  • My Morgue is not afraid to make deliveries to the graveyard – Stephen King (my spirit animal on this writer’s journey) was once asked if he recommended keeping a notebook, and he said (paraphrasing) that a notebook is a great way to immortalize a bad idea. My morgue isn’t meant to be a locker for ideas, but more like a laboratory to either make my monster, or keep parts for another creation. If an idea just isn’t working, I’m not afraid of deleting the file completely — there is no point in allowing a dead-end piece occupy my notice.

 

So, back to my original question: do you keep a Writer’s Morgue now that you understand my context? How is your morgue different than mine? If you haven’t kept one, have you considered keeping one now?

Thank you for the visit and I’ll see you on your next trip across the Millerverse!

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