Details, Details…Mining Your Life for Ideas

 

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Me, with a new idea. Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

Ah, there’s nothing like being infatuated with a new story idea.

I’m over-the-moon excited when a fresh tale is brewing in my mind, because this one will be the best ever!  I’m prone to rush headlong into my manuscript, hitting the juicy highlights of the narrative. But the devil is in the details…

The Problem of Weak Writing

“Details.” That’s what my literature professor said I lacked when I (tearfully) asked her why I couldn’t earn more than a B on my papers. What I thought were precise essays were actually vague. And boring.

The fix? Brainstorming. For the next essay, I chose my topic, then I made a list of all the relevant ideas I could think of before I sat down to write. The result? An A. 

Details — especially those involving the senses — breathe life into a story and cast a spell of verisimilitude that pulls in the reader: The hour-glass birthmark on your antagonist’s forehead. The leaning tower of books in the den and the frayed fabric on the easy chair. The way your protagonist’s mouth quivers before she answers her opponent.

Without them, characters are lackluster, rooms are empty, and plot holes abound.

How can you imagine all those necessary details?

Draw from everyday experiences. 

Even mundane items — small things — can lead to big developments. For example, simple clues — a ladybug tattoo, a missing key, a white pill — may identify the murderer in a who-done-it.

I like to carry a notepad in my pocket as I go through my day and jot down my observations, or record them in a voice memo on my phone.

Here are a few little details I noted while doing my morning chores. I may use them in my new masterpiece novella:

  • Outside my kitchen window, the yellow faces of sunflowers swayed in the wind.
  • Bacon popped in the microwave, and the aroma filled the room.
  • I accidentally hit the lever on the mixer while it was in the up position. The paddle spun at high speed and slung muffin batter all over the kitchen — and me.
  • Upside-down bats lined the wooden frame over the barn door.

I might use the mixer episode in a humorous scene as my protagonist tries to impress a potential love interest who works as a chef. Or the image of the bats would enhance a gloomy, suspenseful atmosphere in a mystery. You get the idea.

Natalie Goldberg says this in Writing Down the Bones: Freeing the Writer Within:

“Life is so rich, if you can write down the real details of the way things were and are, you hardly need anything else….Using the details you actually know and have seen will give your writing believability and truthfulness.”

How do you mine your everyday life for ideas? Let me know in the comments.

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Write for Your Tribe

Are You Disheartened?

Have you thought about giving up this writing thing?

Have you wondered if you should devote so much time to this endeavor? Whether you should risk your sanity for it?

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Pixabay

Is it worth all the SACRIFICE when you get so little in return? So little validation. So many rejection letters.

No money. Nil.

Or perhaps your half-finished story has never seen the light of day. You’ve hidden it in a drawer or on a hard drive, too afraid to show anyone. Too afraid to finish.

Meanwhile, your writer friends publish their work, get noticed, climb the rankings on Amazon. A few have published with the Big Five, won Pulitzers, and made millions. These may or may not be your personal friends, but they write the books you read.

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Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

You suspect your writing is not on the same level as theirs. You feel like a dandelion amongst roses. Like Ira Glass explained, a gap exists between what you admire – your taste – and your ability.

Should You Quit?

Perhaps the better question is, Can you quit?

Discouragement sets in because writing is hard. Believe me, crocheting is much easier. Or knitting.

Can you give it up and keep your sanity? If the answer is yes, then you can take up a more rewarding hobby. Like knitting. (I’m not knocking knitting. I have two projects going right now.)

Or maybe you’ll choose to do the hard thing because you want to write. Or you need to write. And you hate knitting.

And maybe you’ll decide that success isn’t measured by rankings or money or even popularity. Maybe success means making a small difference in the world.

Your Mission, If You Choose to Accept It

STAY THE COURSE. Don’t give up.

No one else can write with your unique perspective, with your experiences, your voice.

You might object, “Too many voices are clamoring to be heard already!”

But none of them are yours. You are the only one who can write your way. You are the only one with your voice.

If you study the craft, if you do the work, you WILL inspire someone else. If your story, poem, picture or post can help one, anonymous person, is it worth it?

Keep writing. Accumulate a body of work, and your influence will grow. You may not win a Pulitzer. You may never make a bestseller list. But you will reach the right people – your people – with your authentic words.

It’s about writing — and sharing — one true thing.

Be yourself. In time, your voice will find readers. Your readers. Write for your tribe.