Last week I heard Foursquare founder Dennis Crowley talk about the evolution of an idea. From question to concept, prototype to vocation, Crowley explained that Foursquare came about not because he had a striking business plan and market-tested concept, but because he decided to make something he wanted to see in the world. This advice is as true for writers as it is for startup CEOs. Passion is the first ingredient. But what comes next?
While tools on their own don’t make the writer’s story great, they do make his job easier. Which brings me back to Foursquare. Foursquare is mobile application that makes cities “easier to use and more interesting to explore.” Billed as a game, a tip-source, and a social tool, Foursquare lives on a user’s smartphone so, when he arrives at a venue, he can “check in,” telling friends where he is and what he’s doing.
What if we turned Foursquare into a kind of writer’s notebook?
Imagine a character in a cityscape. Where would she go? What would she notice? Using Foursquare, live out her typical day. Visit the spots she’d visit, check in at each one. Foursquare’s “shouts” push 140-character posts to Twitter and Facebook; create a fictitious online identity where you’ll store your character’s observations. Go somewhere — to Sheep’s Meadow in Central Park, to Seattle’s Alki Beach, and, as your character, look up. What do you see? Check in. Write a shout: Seen through the trees, Manhattan’s buildings loom larger. Or, On clear days why would you want to be anywhere but Seattle? Add a hashtag: #NYCAmazesMe, #DayAtAlki. Move on. Visit the cobbler. Pretend you’re picking up your winter boots. Check in. Compose a shout. Pink tags decorate rows of shoes in paper bags. Move on. Visit a coffee shop for a snack. What does your character want to remember about the cakes? Check in. Compose a shout. Red velvet, cream cheese frosting, black tea.
These snippets are “paid passage back to the world out there” so on that day you’re facing the blank page, wondering what your character would have done, alone in September, having found a forgotten $20 bill in her pocket and knowing no one to take to tea you can search your snippets and find her story.