Got a VO swipe file? Your secret source of fresh ideas!


Cartoonists do it. Copywriters do it. We don’t know if educated fleas do it, but we do it. So should you. Let’s talk about building a swipe file.

A swipe file is a collection of thoughts, ideas, observations, practices, whatever potentially inspiring information you happen to encounter in your daily activities. You’ll probably have no particular use for the thought or observation at the time you save it, but since it’s interesting or different, it might be useful sometime in the future. Make it your constant pal.

Something “interesting” could be anything – voice, a mannerism, promotional idea, turn of phrase, occasion, situation, tactic, motivation – simply add it to your file. Then, when you’re stuck for an idea, it’s the first place to look. You’ll probably find a bunch of prototypes you can swipe, improve and adapt to whatever need is at hand.

If the idea of “swiping” an idea doesn’t appeal to you, you can call it a “tickler” file, or an “idea” or “inspiration” file. But really, it’s not simply about “swiping,” per se. It’s about freshening your memory, getting out of a mental rut, planting seeds, and synergy. It’s about adaptation and creativity. It’s about taking an existing idea (or more than one) and combining or modifying it to make it your own. And yes, sometimes in a pinch, it may remind you of something to copy.

Even Newton needed an apple.

Whatever, when you add to and draw from your swipe file regularly, it becomes a treasure trove of fresh ideas. Also review your file from time to time just for the heck of it; with the different perspective and a more open mind, you may notice yet another seed for a new idea.

Here are some ways to use your resource:

Characters. The person in the check-out line. A voice you hear on the street. A mannerism, a physical trait. Anything unusual at all. Now is not the time to decide if it’s file-worthy; everything is. You never know how or when it might be useful, but something about it suggests it could be. That’s the point.

And if you managed to record the example, list the recording’s file name, location and a descriptive word or two in your swipe file, so all your ideas will be in one place. Random recordings have an unfortunate habit of getting lost and forgotten on your system, so a swipe file Recordings folder would also be good to have.

People to emulate. Not just other professional talent to serve as good VO examples, but also other people who inspire you. Did it occur to you that it would be good to be more like them in some way? Keep that thought. For that matter, have you encountered a really bad example? Tuck that away, too. Whatever the VO job, it’s generally not wise to make your voice obnoxious (sorry, Mr. Gottfried), but you might use only one characteristic of even such a prototype, or develop it in a comic way (there you are, Gilbert).

Self-promotion. Send your resume or demo in a pizza box? It’s been done, ad nauseam (especially when there’s a pizza in there). But when you see or read about an original promotional idea, remember it. You might be able to make it fresh, or more applicable to you, simply by changing one part of it. Like phrasing it better, or changing the execution, or enclosing your message in a ... . (We’ll let you finish that sentence yourself, so other readers won’t have done it first.)

Don’t limit your promotional section to broad executions. You should also make note of others’ promotional strategies, market positions and statements, promotional timing, exemplary headlines, obscure holidays, anything that you might hang your promotional message on or make one out of.

Your own ideas. For example, a blog post subject that you didn’t have time to research or develop at the time. Or maybe the time or space wasn’t right for it. Maybe it’s a conversation you had, or one that you heard. Or a question you had, but not yet an answer. Come back, pick up the ball and run with it!

How to start your swipe file

There are various ways to create your swipe file. It can be as simple as creating a special file in Word or your text editor. Bookmark the file, create a desktop shortcut to it, or drag it to your computer’s menu (e.g., the Windows Start menu), so you can find and open it quickly. But if your office and mobile devices can all access the same file, so much the better. The key thing is that you make it as simple as possible to open and write in. If you have a separate file on each device, take care to consolidate your thoughts into your main file now and then.

And if you ever find yourself in an “I’ve got nothing to do at the moment” moment, don’t play hooky. Check your swipe file, and you’ll be reminded of any number of things to occupy your time productively.

Programs for making your swipe file more accessible and/or organized:

Pocket (getpocket.com): A free product that can span all or most of your platforms.

Evernote (evernote.com): The basic version is free, but you might prefer the more versatile “Plus” version, which costs $25 a year.

Pinterest (pinterest.com): This is probably better suited to writers, artists and such, but if you’re in the habit of using it, it might be handy.

Programs you already have:

  • Text editor (e.g., Windows Notepad) Tip: With Notepad, if you put the word “LOG” at the very start of the file, preceded by a period (.LOG), the page will open to the end of the file, inserting the current date. That way, at least your thoughts will be organized chronologically.
  • Word processor (e.g., Microsoft Word) Either a simple text document, possibly with sections, or create a Table to help sort your entries and spotlight any special notes. But if your computer takes a long time to open the file, consider a faster solution.
  • Spreadsheet: If you’re handy with these, you might prefer it to the space limitations of a document table.

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