Confused yet? Okay, here's an example. Imagine you're getting ready to remodel your kitchen. You surf the Web to get ideas and inspiration. You start gathering photos: you like this wall color, that refrigerator, this drawer pull, that cabinet style. In the olden days, you might have paged through print magazines and clipped out images you liked and glued them into a paper notebook or dropped them into a folder. Now, with just a click of the mouse, Pinterest gives you a place where you can store all of these photos on a "board" that you have named something creative like "My Kitchen." Now not only is all of this visual input gathered in one convenient place for you to look at at your leisure, but others can see it too, and congratulate you on your excellent taste or add a comment (i.e., "That surface material is a bear to keep clean, and it scratches easily"). They can even "re-pin" the post to their own board to consider for their own kitchen remodel. And you can go around and look at their kitchen pages and
So how does Pinterest apply to writers? I use Pinterest to help me add historical details and local color to my story. (You can view my boards here.) I'm writing a novel set in the 1920s (have I mentioned that a hundred thousand times yet?). So I've created a board called "1920s and All That Jazz" to inspire me: fashions, cars, hairstyles, celebrities, books, movies. Since my story is set in Chicago, I've also set up a "Sweet Home Chicago" page of historical images of the city. My heroine works at the late, great Marshall Field & Co. department store, so I have a "Marshall Field & Co." page. If I need to describe how a character is dressed, I refer to my 1920s board for inspiration. If I need to describe a certain intersection or building, I refer to my "Chicago" page. If I'm wondering what was new and noteworthy at Field's in 1926, I refer to that page. Meanwhile, other Pinterest users who are interested in these topics can view my board, and I can peek at theirs. It's a form of visual collaboration.
Although I'm using Pinterest for fiction, I imagine it would be similarly useful for nonfiction writers as a place to store research and ideas by topic. But a warning to the distraction-prone: Like most online applications, Pinterest can be lots of fun, but it can also be a major time drain if you find yourself wandering around looking at pretty pictures all day. It's not for everyone, but for those of us who need a little extra help with the "visuals" of our story, it might be worth a try.
Pinterest works by invitation, and sometimes there's a wait to get on it. I'm not sure why that is. But if you're not on Pinterest and you would like to be, let me know in the comments and I will send you an invite. And if you are already on it, I'd be interested to know if you've used it at all in your writing process.