Thursday, October 21, 2010

Through the Eyes of a Writer

Bloggers and columnists run out of ideas. When you dip frequently from the same well, sooner or later the water goes shallow and muddy. How do daily bloggers keep up the pace? How do weekly columnists find that phenomenal material that keeps them in business, their readers always flipping to find the latest words of wisdom?

Finding new ideas takes a honed skill. When the responsibility of maintaining a fast-paced deadline consumes your day, you  learn to think, see, and react with the instincts of a writer. It's like Pavlov's dog. You adapt. You expect and behave with the notion that the world is fodder for your work, and the next story is right in front of you. Just thinking about a deadline makes your brain churn, your eyes wander, seeking for a fertile place to land.

If you wait until you sit at the keyboard to think about what to write, you confine yourself. Same position in the chair, same view of your desk, same sounds outside your window. Therefore, same old ideas. Yes, you're told to plant your butt in the chair and work. However, nothing says your head can't work when your butt is elsewhere.

I blog five days a week. I write two to four weekly editorials for my newsletters. I pen pieces for other publications, and each night I hover over my latest mystery chapter. A friend of my writing group marvels at my productivity, and I tell him it's not the magical gift he swears it is. Being able to pound out the first draft of a six-hundred-word piece in thirty minutes comes from years of deadlines and reacting to the subsequent feedback from readers. 

I possess tangible experience that passive voice kills a message. I've rued the time a thrown together message received no accolades. I kicked myself when a rejection told me I should've edited one more time, slept on the piece one more night. And I've learned to continue writing in my head once I've flipped the lights off in my study.

Every stage, angle or twist in your life feeds the well. So does every newspaper headline, quirky Facebook comment, neighborhood mishap, or family flaw. Train yourself to see your surroundings as writing material. I've found excellent ideas for blogs, columns and piece via:

1. Headlines - Whether the headline was pro or against my opinion, I took it and ran, twisting it to be a lesson or educational moment.

2. Other blogs and articles - A single bullet in a how-to lesson on a blog, can spawn a blog of its own. I seek those AHA moments when three, four or five words stick in my head. Then I feed it and string it out into a piece of its own.

3. Life lessons - If someone enlightens or hurts me, I urgently seek a writing home for the lesson. Mistakes or accomplishments can explode a half dozen ideas from all sorts of angles. The neighbor's dog killed my chicken, and I found a lesson in it about writing. My son strikes out on a cross-country trek to find himself and I spin it into another writing piece.

Define the type of writer you are, and then put those glasses on and study your environment. Reach a point that someone can throw you a random topic, and you can spin it into a piece with your oh so unique voice you've finally groomed to respond to your command.


Anne R. Allen said...

Hope, I've been following you for a number of years and I am in total awe of your ability to come up with fresh, informative material daily. You're right that practice helps, but I think some of it has to be ascribed to that little thing called...talent.

Kristine said...

One challenge that is hard for me: when you write that fresh material with the feeling of the moment--perhaps as you mentioned about your son's cross country trek--you do not know the market you are going to send it to as you write that essay. (Or do you?) It seems harder to place a story this way, as opposed to looking at the market's needs and what they're looking for. What do you think? (p.s. I too am in awe that you always seem to find fresh material for your blog and newsletters. Good job!!!)

Hope Clark said...

I write both, Kristine. The energy of the moment pieces and pieces directed to a market. Blogs are great for those spur of the moment articles. You need that kind of energy on a blog. I've also saved them for Chicken Soup. Of course you always have to be open to tweaking whatever pieces you save like that, since they rarely fit exactly. But once you develop that talent of writing spontaneously, you can write easily either way. You train your mind to sit, ponder and write. Sometimes all it takes is to have a point in mind and an opening sentence. Then you free write. As I said, it takes lots of practice, but it is very doable.

Karen Lange said...

I agree, ideas are everywhere. I'm getting better at tuning in to things wherever I am. Thanks, Hope.

Scott Bergman said...

Great story Hope! It's funny, while I am out and about during the day I can come up with hundreds of things to write about. My downfall is later in the day when I can actually do something about those ideas I've lost the oomph. :) Take care!

Jessica McCann said...

Another great post, Hope. It reminds me of a favorite quote from Toni Morrison: "I type in one place, but I write all over the house."

I'm the same way -- always "writing" in my head, thinking through ideas, no matter where I seem to be, and often when I should be sleeping.

Jessica McCann
Author of the novel All Different Kinds of Free

mary potter kenyon said...

The world if full of ideas. Life is full of ideas. The only dilemma for me is getting to a piece of paper fast enough!

Kristi's Book Nook said...

Life is full of writings waiting to be shared. I love plucking ideas out from my surroundings.

Michelle Mach said...

When I wrote a daily blog for a company, I kept a notebook of ideas. My colleagues made fun of the way I would say "That's a great blog topic!" in the middle of a meeting. But it is true that if you keep your eyes open, you will find ideas everywhere!