Who, what, when...


Over the years, when discussing my writing, I generally get presented with some similar questions. Two take some form of:

Where do your ideas come from?

Why do you write?

Some questions are unique and different. And a few contains the same concepts. I never tire of hearing any of them.

It’s a weird thing though, because I don’t know that I have ever answered either question with anything resembling the same answer. (And that’s not because I’ve come across better answers or in some way changed my mind. Don’t you dare accuse me of growing, learning and maturing. (Umm… I mean…))

My ideas tend to come from all over the place, which probably shouldn’t be surprising given how most of my published and shared efforts have been non-fiction in nature and even more specifically observational essays. And for this material, there isn’t one particular influence or inspiration. It can happen in just about any situation.

The other day I was driving on a road near our house. There are several corn fields along the road. Both sides. There’s an old saying about corn. “Knee-high by the fourth of July.” I seem to think about that expression every year but can never remember that “knee-high” part. I ask crazy questions. (“Was it thigh high?” “…hip high?” “Knee high doesn’t seem that high for the fourth of July. I want corn on the cob and that doesn’t sound near ready.”)

On this particular morning, that corn was sending me into a whirlwind. I was driving and couldn’t look the expression up. Then I started wondering if our local produce store had any corn on the cob yet. Which in turn led me to wondering about how there could be fresh corn available at produce stands and farmers markets featuring locally sourced vegetables if it was only a week or so after that knee-high measuring stick that everyone supposedly used for determining how the crops were doing.

And that, in quite a general and sweeping way, I suppose is about as good as anything when it comes to explaining where my ideas come from. Something happens, I begin thinking about it, and for whatever reason I don’t readily have anything that allows me to answer a question or stop the train that has begun rolling downhill. Eventually I stumble across a portion of the tangents that motivates me to explore it and write. For instance…

I was washing laundry and had to deal with a white shirt. I hate white shirts in the laundry. I always have this fear that I’m going to end up ruining them. Not because of some comical though standard laundry-related problem, such as tossing them in with something red. Instead, because of things like the clothesline and thoughts that I’ll end up smudging something on the shirt. Nothing like a clothespin and a white shirt to drive you a bit batty.

The corn did lead me to an essay idea, about how everything in the garden always seems to be ready to pick on the same day. The white shirt, not so much. But the thought process is there. For the non-fiction work I do, impulses and origins can begin just about any place at any time. Sometimes I sit, deliberately think, and come up with an idea. Other times, and this I have said before, I’m just sitting on the park bench watching the world go by.

I suppose the connecting elements come down to this: I want to share the story. I want to use my voice… my writing… and present my opinions and observations. And that, in turn, is how my ideas eventually meet up with the actual writing.

Several years ago, I received an e-mail. A person I had never met had been doing some internet research. A strange combination of search terms had managed to bring up an essay I had produced and posted on my web site. It didn’t help with her project, but it did bring a smile to her day and she wanted me to know.

The other day I received a phone call from someone that I had been discussing the publishing process with for a few months. He was moving along to the end of the project and had reached a point where several author copies of the book had arrived at the house. He was thrilled, and more important than that, sounded happy about how things had turned out.

There is, in every writer, an ego. Has to be, regardless of whether we are willing to admit it or not. We have an idea, believe it’s worth sharing, and are convinced you should listen. The written word is how we present it to our audience. (And we are beyond insulted—although usually politely and quietly—when people express opinions that suggest writing is not a talent and something anyone could do with ease. But these are stories for another day… maybe.)

But it can be more than that. Learning about things to satisfy a curious mind. Connecting with people. Exploring and smiling and creating and on and on.

It is rewarding.

Rewarding on many levels and in many ways. All of which are important, though none likely need to be defined. And it brings us to some crazy destinations. Like me right now, in a place where I need to find some fresh corn on the cob.


If you have any comments or questions, please e-mail me at Bob@inmybackpack.com