Mining for Gold

Now that you have kicked your Editor out of the office (or as my friend Effie would say “into the parking lot”) it is time to jump start your imagination.  Let’s face it, the imagination is the most incredible tool you have in your inventory and all too often we don’t feed it often enough.  The all time greatest quick starter is to read.  Read everything you can get a hand on.  Old books, new books, fiction and non-fiction, classics and garbage.  Read it all, otherwise how are you going to know what makes good writing good or why a classic became a classic?

The next best quick start is experience.  We writers need to meet new people and listen to their stories.  Everyone has a story.  Sometimes they might think their life story is boring, but not true.

Everyone is unique and we have all had experiences in our life that are worth hearing about.  I once interviewed an eighty-five year old man who swore he’d lived a very mundane life and then proceeded to tell me about the barn raisings he’d been too and the  trip he’d made out west during the 1940’s to help with the harvest during the war.

Our own lives are full of interesting discoveries too.  Not everyone has lived where you have lived or have done what you have done.  Search your memories for ideas that may lead you down interesting byways.  These memories are treasure troves for short stories, even novels.  They can lead to good articles too.  Remember the old grocer you knew who came from Ireland.  Was he living in the southern republic or in the northern Ireland area governed by the Uk?  Perhaps he would describe the difficulties encountered during the worst of the Troubles.  Maybe the local piano teacher has had a very successful student or won some prestigious prize themselves.  Older people are gold mines of story opportunities.  Did one of your elderly neighbours ever work in a munitions factory or fly as a bush pilot?  You will be surprised at the fascinating lives your neighbours have led.

Make sure you carry a notebook every where you go and I do mean everywhere.  The dollar stores have lots of small notebooks that can be slipped into a coat pocket or a purse.  Writers need to become eavesdroppers, not for gossip, but for story ideas and bits of conversation that can be used in a short story or novel.  People tend to tell their life stories to total strangers on buses, planes and trains.  Also, it is good to note down brief descriptions of interesting characters that can become models for your protagonists or villains.  Note down the names of shops you pass or descriptions of the beautiful or derelict buildings you see.  This notebook will become very valuable for the times you sit down to write.  You should go through your notebooks (plural, they should accumulate) regularly for details and conversation that you can turn into stories or that can be filed in on a recipe card in a filing box marked “ideas”.

Always begin your writing sessions with some timed free writing.  Set an egg time for ten minutes and write until the timer rings.  You must begin writing immediately, even if you are only writing your own name and continue writing non-stop until the buzzer goes, or if all goes as planned you will get so enthralled with what you are writing you will continue until it is done.

These bits of advice are not new to writers, but they are well used for a good reason.  They usually work. However, if you are still stuck there are many other ways to prod your imagination into action. Those ways are the topic of my next blog.

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