Writing Right with Dmitri: Ripped from the Headlines Redux
Okay, suppose you actually do want to write for other people in this space/time continuum. In other words, you're paying attention to what goes on in their heads as well as your own. You're not James Joyce on a 17-year odyssey to come up with Finnegans Wake, or JD Salinger emoting in Catcher in the Rye. You care to connect.
But your mind is a blank. You can't think of anything pithy to say. Or, more accurately, you have so many diffuse ideas in mind that you can't focus. You could clutch your head and exclaim, 'I have writer's block.' Phooey. You just need an idea, and we can prove it.
Find the Mother Lode
Open your browser. (What do you mean, it's already open? Oh, yeah. You're reading this online.) Look at the news headlines. Or google 'Weird News'. Or open Twitter and look at what's 'trending'. Or check out h2g2's Instagram account. Wander about. You won't be there five minutes before you see a topic you could do something with.
Last night, I opened Twitter. Somebody mentioned umbrellas. I now have an idea for a ridiculous short story, which I will go and write as soon as I'm done with this column. I even have the first sentence already. So it goes.
That news is not just there to kick up your blood pressure. It tells you what everybody's doing, and what they're thinking about. It gives you an opportunity to connect with a reader. Go for it.
A warning, though: the 'news' is just a start. If you want to say something meaningful, or even merely amusing, you should probably dig a little deeper than the talk show hosts. If you notice, they tend to make almost exactly the same superficial comments, show for show, every night. That's because they have a tighter deadline than you probably do. Take your time. Mull it over. Apply your own wisdom and experience. Look at things differently from the news clowns, pundits, and professional suits you see on TV.
Another tip: Look for weird news, the weirder the better. Humans do awfully odd things. I'll bet you could come up with an interesting take on that weirdness if you put your mind to it. Think about it: the first modern novel is Don Quixote. What's the plot? An elderly man reads so many junk novels he tries to act them out. It's a classic. But I'll bet it started when Cervantes noticed how many people he knew were reading those old knightly epics and taking them seriously. He began to imagine Señor Quijana's LARPing activities, and bob's yer uncle.
Here are some weird headlines from the second week of July:
- Twitter Skewers David Brooks for Bizarre Story About 'Gourmet' Meats: If you haven't read that one, you should. A New York Times columnist was going on about class differences. Twitter reacted hilariously to his odd example involving the Italian gourmet sandwich business.
- Handcuffed Man Proposes During Felony Arrest: Now, wouldn't Damon Runyon have a field day with that?
- Praying Mantises Are Killing Birds and Eating Their Brains Worldwide: This is horrible, but true. Any budding Stephen Kings out there who want to take it on? I won't: I'm terrified of praying mantises, anyway.
- This Professional Marathoner Outran 2 Bears, But You Should Not Try This: No, you shouldn't, Bluebottle. Stay away from bears, and do not invite them to the Isle of Wight. Do not try to outrun a bear unless your last name is Morube. But I can imagine all sorts of stories from this one: 'The Loneliness of the Long-Distance Bear Fugitive', 'A Run Through the Maine Woods' (Yes, of course it happened in Maine, where else?), 'Trainers of Fire'. Okay, I'll stop now.
I'm not going to share the one about the umbrellas, though you can probably find it. That one's mine, and it's going noir. If I get it done in time, it will be in this issue.
So when you read the news, don't get mad. Get even. Turn your imagination loose on the insanity.