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it’s the same old story

I read this blog entry by Florence Catherine Gardner way back in September, where she talks about writers really having only one story in them.  Each book they write is simply a retelling of the same story.


Here I think I’m all creative and stuff, and really, I’m stuck in a Groundhog Day loop.

The first stage of writer adulthood is realizing that there is nothing new under the sun.  The only newness you can bring to writing is your execution, not the subject matter or even the slant.

But the second stage is realizing that your writing–your deep writing that comes from dark places–will inevitably draw from the same well. It makes sense that you will tell the same story.  Over.  And over.

It’s easy to look at others’ writing and see the pattern.  Importance of family.  God’s indifference.  The danger of centralizing power in the state.  Whatever.

I’ve spent this week, when I haven’t really been able to write, thinking about my reoccurring story.  What fascinates me about human relationships?  What am I drawn to write about?  How does it connect to my own experiences?  The answer has surprised me, and also been baldly obvious.

Hell no, I’m not going to just tell you.  That’s what novels are for.


writerly ideas, right this way…

The idea for Wizard of Oz came from a file drawer label: O-Z.


The idea for Twilight came from a dream.  Yeah, that’s what she says.

And The Graveyard Book came from watching his two-year-old pedal his trike around a graveyard.

(You know what? That kid WANTS you to see his humiliation.  He posted it on youtube.  So point and snicker guilt-free.)


Writers seem to find ideas ripe, in the ether.  They just pluck ’em and plant ’em in their WIP. So what the heck is wrong with the rest of us?

Not a gosh-darn thing, Sparkle Plenty.

We just have to be pointed to the right substrata of ether:

FOUND MAGAZINE —A dollar bill stamped “I am not terrorized.”  A picture of a middle-aged woman in a cat costume with a shiny half-mask, surrounded by early 1960’s furniture, lounging on a bookshelf with encyclopedias.  A note: “Don’t put purse in freezer.”  A prosthetic nipple* with hair.  People send stray items into this website for daily publication.  Tell me you can’t come up with a story for the prosthetic nipple.  C’mon.  There’s a million ways to go with that.

ONE SENTENCE is about telling your story, briefly. Insignificant stories, everyday stories, or turning-point-in-your-life stories, boiled down to their bare essentials. The idea was born from a blog entry several years ago that got a million (actually, only 14) responses. “Maybe this will take off more as its own site,” thought I. Let’s see. [Quoting from the site.  As far as I can tell, this predates Tweet.  Hmmm.]

“I found out the girl of my dreams had a huge crush on me one week too late.”

“I soon discovered that thinking, ‘Don’t puke, don’t puke’ does not prevent one from puking in the middle of a final exam in front of 400 people.”

“I just couldn’t understand why my mother had no reaction when I informed her that her cat’s name meant ‘penis’ in another language.” *

SECRETTWEETIt’s pretty interesting how many people want to spill their guts…anonymously.  They twitter it here.

POST SECRET—And they send it here on post cards.

Gut wrenching, hilarious, confusing–whatever you need, I’m betting it’s been confessed on one of those sites.  And it’s all real.



So throw these sites in your writer’s toolbox.  Between the thumb drive (missing the cap that the cat has dragged somewhere) and the “I heart ellipses” button.  You know.  Under your License to Eavesdrop.


*Readers of this blog should not be easily offended.

everything I need to know I learned in high school

This is how a writer comes up with ideas:

I need to think of something to write.  I need to think of something to write.  It’s Wednesday, I need to post.  What’ll I write about?  Why did I ever start this dag-nabbit blog?  Why am I talking like Yosemite Sam?

Random thoughts.  Angst.  Hostility.  Show tunes.  Ah, yes…

High school.  This feels like high school, chained to a desk with nothing in my head.  Like writing notes in high school.  Blogging is like writing notes in high school.  I think I’m using some of the same brain cells I used then; dormant lo, these (mmmumbbullll) years.

What is my favorite memory from high school?  Chinese fire drills in  my mother’s 1968 Buick Electra?  Cruising Westheimer on a Saturday night, just to see what we could see?  Drive-ins, no more information necessary?

No!  The highlight of my high school career occurred my freshman year at my all-girls’ school.


It was a beautiful Spring day in Texas.  Girls with pressing deadlines in all of their core classes lounged on the Easter-basket grass in the court yard, working on their tans.

Suddenly, the double doors to the auditorium burst open, and a nude young lad sprinted across the courtyard, through the door to the office atrium and out the front to a get-away car.

Wait!  That’s not the good part.  (Sorry, Anonymous Young Man.)

Thirty seconds later, Sr. Mary Margaret pushed her way out the auditorium door, running as fast as she could after the scamp.  She moved so slowly she was almost going backward, but she was determined to save her girls!   She had, stretched in front of her, at arms’ length…

a trenchcoat. 

I always wondered what would have happened if she had run a little faster.  Would she have tackled him?  I relish the picture of a nun rolling around on the ground with a naked man.  What if she couldn’t cover him up all the way with that tiny little raincoat?  Would she wrap it around his front and shield us from the sight of his bare rump with her own body?  Or vice-versa?  The world will never know.

And that is how a writer comes up with an idea. 

I didn’t say it was a good idea.


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