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Find Your Story

I once had a writing teacher bring an old, muddy, scuffed-up boot to class where she plopped it down on her desk and said, “There’s a story in there somewhere. Start writing.” She sat down at her desk, and we went to work.

It’s been a good twenty years since that classroom and that boot, but the lesson was learned. There are stories surrounding us every day, everywhere we go, in everything we see. There is a story in the nail technician with chipped, cracked fingernails on her own hands. There is a story in the woman wiping tears from her eyes as she moves forward through traffic in her car. There is a story in the man who pulls into the driveway of a house after a long and grueling day at work only to remember that he hasn’t lived there since the divorce. I see stories in everything: in a smile, in a glance, in a snippet of overheard conversation. The ones I go after and dig deeper to unearth are the ones that usually have the most character–like the muddy boot. I want a story that’s been through something and is going somewhere.

I want a story that can walk over difficult terrain and climb mountains.

Recently,  I’ve come across a letter from my great, great aunt to my great uncle. I need to write the story found within for several reasons:

It’s my family history. It’s heart achingly real. And the story has feet wearing incredibly worn and muddy boots.

When I do school visits and other presentations, I am almost always asked, “Where do you get your ideas?” The answer is always the same: “There’s a story in there somewhere.” And by there “there” I mean everywhere.

So if you are in a creative slump, go out and find what kinds of stories you want to tell. What holds your interest? What makes you happy? What fills your creative well? Here are some exercises I do when it seems I can’t see the story through the mud.

  • Appreciate art. I am always inspired by someone else’s artwork. Kevin Wasden has been a tremendous resource and friend to my creativity over the years.
  • Find emotion. I need to have something that strikes an emotional chord. If I’m not feeling the love, neither is my reader.
  • Read. I get great ideas from reading, and usually those ideas have nothing to do with what I’m actually reading. It goes back to the art thing. I believe art begets art.
  • Listen. Everyone has a story–much like those old boots. Everyone has a past and a moment where they were either amazingly heroic or horrifically villainous. Listen to people. Besides, people are important and deserved to be listened to. My parents have excellent stories–some they would mind a great deal if I shared to my reading audience and others that they are happy to share. Tap your family resource (you know, without alienating that family).
  • Eavesdrop. This is a wee bit different from listening because you don’t want people to know you’re listening because it would maybe look creepy and stalker-ish.
  • Get back to work. Yes, work. Writing isn’t always fun, and sometimes you have to slug through the muddy words to get to the boot. Sometimes you have to look yourself in the eye in the mirror and say, “There’s a story in there somewhere.”

Because there *is* a story in you.