The Idea Well


When I was in my twenties, single and working and feeling a lot like Bridget Jones, I bought a book on writing. One of the author’s suggestions was to write daily, ‘Morning Pages,’ a fifteen-minute free-writing session about whatever came to mind. This is a great way to get ideas going. The brain is fresh and rested, the day’s demands have yet to intrude and the page–and presumably one’s mind–are wide open to possibility.

I recently came across those morning pages. I should have called them “moaning” pages. How embarrassing to find that, in retrospect, I *did* resemble Bridget Jones, whose diary I just re-read. That is, the writing was all rant and worry, gossip and fear. It’s no wonder no story ideas came from those exercises: I was so self-absorbed with my own life and insecurities that I couldn’t see beyond them.

I was too poor to do anything exciting like travel or skydive and mistakenly believed that without wild experiences, I had nothing to write about. But life is often difficult. How do we get past the daily frustrations to write something worth reading?

In the intervening years, I traveled, married, had a family and left the corporate jungle. Suburban home life is not only drab, it’s unoriginal. My younger self might think I had even less to write about. But what I discovered was actually the opposite. As I settled into my routine life of raising kids, I had more writing material than ever before. How, considering I rarely left the house?

I began to examine how the events of my life impacted and changed me. 

I wish I could go back and tell my young self that writing isn’t about what you do but how it feels. Becoming a parent is nothing new. Readers want to know how your character handled it. Did she rise up and become a domestic goddess, start a parenting group in the neighborhood and ultimately go back to school to become a chef/child psychologist/parenting coach? Or did she crumble under the weight of expectation and fear, crawl into a bottle and barely cope? Did worried neighbors call CPS? Did her husband leave her or did he get her the help she needed?

In fact, if Bridget Jones was able to handle all the work and relationship dramas she went through with charm and grace, her diary would not have been the best-seller it was. Who wants to read about perfection? We want to read about characters who go through the same things we do, feel the same emotions and fears we feel. Show us how they handle them. Make us cringe, help us cope, make us laugh. If your characters feel real and relatable, even cleaning the toilet can be something worth writing about.

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