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From One Young Writer to Another: My SIFI Book

Andrew Boryga / Thursday, December 23, 2010 View Comments

Keep a nice little notebook in your back pocket, it'll do you wonders.

SIFI is the name of a little notebook I carry around in my back pocket at all times; it stands for “Shit I Find Interesting”. It’s full of scribbles and illegible statements in no real order. Snips of thoughts, ideas, musings, observations and well, anything I find interesting. It’s the type of book every writer should have.

Ideas strike writers at all times of the day. You can be on the train and over hear an interesting conversation, maybe see someone who looks eccentric maybe wearing something odd––and an idea for a story or a character might follow. You can be in class, zoning out in the back and in that moment of lapse, your mind jumps to a vivid thought, a memory of use in a story maybe even a scene. Or, you could just be lounging with your friends, talking shit around a table. One might say something, a statement that summarizes a complex belief of your age group, maybe a bit of slang that’s poignant, possibly useful for your narrative.

Besides scraps useful for stories, I fill my SIFI book with inspiration for writing too. Personally, a lot of my inspiration for writing comes from culture, because I feel in a lot of ways that’s what I’m really writing about. To make my stories authentic, I must be well versed in a lot of media: literature, film, art, politics, music, and so on. And doing so involves a lot of reading, a lot of searching and learning. So, whenever I hear of something interesting I write it down in my book. It could be a film to see, a book that sounds interesting or even a political conflict from the past that’s controversial and stimulating.

In a day all these things can strike you without a moments notice, and you need some way of remembering them. Before I had my book, I trusted my memory. I’d get a good idea going, maybe on that aforementioned train, and I’d figure I’d just remember it next time I sat down to write. But it never happened. I always forgot. Maybe my short-term memory is at fault, but I don’t think so. I know I’m not the only one who forgets ideas. And that’s why the book is important; because it serves as a catalogue for those ideas and things you want to remember.

Filling up a book with all these scraps might sound dumb, but trust me, it’s not. Sure, you won’t use every idea. You won’t turn every weird person you see into a character or have time to actually read all the books you write down, but even if you use one or two scraps, read one or two or books and create one or two characters, the book will be justified. Because had you not written those scraps down, you never would have done it. And even if you don’t use the ideas right away, they are still of use, because after a while your book will be filled and you’ll have to move on to another one. Then the books themselves will just pile up (I have about three or four now). And you can keep them, and look back on them when you’re older. Who knows, maybe you’ll come across an idea you had five years ago that you can do something with now.

So you can get an idea of what I’m talking about, I’m going to share a little excerpt from one of my most recent SIFI books. It’s a scrap that came to me while listening to a song by a rapper from the Bronx. It wasn’t a great song, but it had some catchy lyrics. In the song he mentioned Ortiz Funeral Home, which is a chain of funeral homes in the Bronx. His line was I should own stock in Ortiz Funeral Home…which could refer to being a killer or having a lot of family members killed––either way, that’s not what interested me. What interested me was the idea of the funeral home in the neighborhood and its significance. I’m working on something mostly concerning my neighborhood, which has one of these funeral homes in it, and so I found the image of it very important and something I could use. So in my book I wrote “In BX story mention Ortiz Funeral Home” and then quoted the rapper’s lyrics underneath. A scrap, which at face value has no real significance, but reading it today, I know exactly what I mean by it and how I intend to use it in a story.

SIFI is just a name I’ve made up for my book, and I’m sure there are other books out there with similar functions that writers have. I’d like to hear about your book. What kinds of things do you write in it? How has it helped you? And, does yours have a cooler nickname then mine?

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  • Kevin J.

    Great post! I have one of these notebooks, but not in my back pocket. I keep it around my desk and write things in it from time to time. I totally agree with your point about forgetting though. I constantly forget ideas. You’re not alone!

  • Jack Is Back

    I live by my notebook. I write down quotes, ideas, passages or lines that pop out to me in books or poetry, etc. Maybe I don’t write in them enough, because each little book lasts me over a year each, but still I don’t know what I would do without them. Almost on book #3!

  • Kristy

    Interesting name! Haha. I have something similar, but no cool name for it. Maybe I should try and think of some…

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