Monthly Archives: April 2009

Where do writers get ideas?

One of the questions writers are frequently asked is “where do you get your ideas?” If you happen to be in a big room full of writers, you’ll usually hear a collective groan go up just after that question is asked. It’s the groan of “not that question again.”

Why is it that wannabe writers seem to ask that question again and again? It’s almost as if they think there is some secret fount of ideas and that writers secretly drink regularly from it but don’t want to tell anyone. Or it’s the magic lamp that writers decide not to share, lest the genie decide there are no more wishes.

Wannabe writers seek the easiest path to whatever it is they’re seeking—usually publication. Many of them don’t want to have to spend the hours writing and then the hours upon hours upon hours rewriting. Many of them think their own first drafts are gold. When success doesn’t come immediately, they seek answers from someone who’s “been there.”

The truth is, of course, there is no secret web site that feeds writers ideas. Ideas come from anywhere and everywhere—which is why the question is really so difficult to answer. “I” don’t know where I get my ideas, they just happen. Many times they come when I least expect it—in the car driving on a long trip, or—more often for me, while I sleep. Not dreams so much as ideas just come to me while I’m sleeping.

That’s one of the reasons I took to carrying around notepads with me everywhere, and placing them in strategic spots—I want one handy when an idea strikes. I want to write it down and not forget it.

There’s also the belief that “there is nothing new under the sun.” While there may be some truth to that, I don’t think I necessarily agree with it 100%. I’ve heard that those things that seem new are actually old ideas, but a little different. I guess my thinking is different is different. If it is different enough to be called different…then it’s different.

I think good work also inspires good ideas. I’ve frequently found ideas flooding in when I read a good book. Generally there’s something about the work that causes me to think of something different—something different enough—and then I write it down. Good movies, too. I can sometimes watch a good movie and get an idea. The “idea” is not merely a rip-off of the entire book or film, but usually just one single thing that I thought was cool, and then my brain worked overtime on taking that idea or concept elsewhere.

There’s also television news, newspaper stories, and magazines.

Of course, real life is probably the single biggest idea generator. Not to tell the “real life” story, but to take some real life event that happened to you or to a friend, and then turn it into something bigger. It’s the “inspired from a true story” kind of thing…only it’s not true, it’s made up.

In short…writers get their ideas from…everywhere.

And then some.

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Man or mouse?

I don’t like mice.

Actually, I don’t like most rodents, not even squirrels. Yeah, I know that’s nearly blasphemous in this neck of the woods. And yes, I’ve eaten squirrel, too—it was fried. That statement doesn’t carry the same sort of weight as it did, say when I was in California—you should have seen the reactions from them—but many of our younger generations around here have never tasted it.

You know how the saying goes, though…tastes like chicken.

Now is that time of year, though, when many commonly discover they’ve been landlording an immigrant family of mice. We usually discover they’ve left in a hurry and left their droppings for us to find.

I remember my grandpas always had cats around the house, farm and barn to help keep the mice at bay.

I also remember my first real personal experience with a mouse. I’d just graduated college and was renting a house with a good buddy of mine. One night while trying to sleep, I kept hearing a scratching noise. I’d never heard the noise before so I had no clue what it was. After about an hour, I decided to see what it was, and turned on the lights.

That’s when I saw him run.

I was about 22 or 23, fresh out of college, and thought I was far superior to this mouse.

You’d have to have seen my room to understand what I am talking about here; the only real furniture in my room was the bed. I’d taken milk crates and 2×6 pieces of wood to make a set of “shelving” for myself. This open shelving held books and clothes alike, and it ran the length of one wall.

I chased the mouse around for an hour before he proved to be faster than me and ducked into a hole.

I set a mouse trap directly in front of that hole the next night…once again proving my superiority over the mouse.

When I first moved to Piggott and was staying with Mom and Dad for a while, I must have brought one with me.

Once again, Mann set out to prove superiority to the mouse.

The good thing about modern homes is there aren’t many little holes for mice to duck in. I first spotted it when it ran under the treadmill. This mouse, idiot thing that it was, was probably looking for a lighter workout than it received that night.

Mom and Dad were both there that night and the three of us set out to trap and get rid of it. Dad got on one end of the couch, Mom on the other, and I waited out front, cutting off any possible route of escape.

Mom had a towel, I had a rolled up newspaper, and Dad’s weapon of choice was a flyswatter. I’d like to admit here publicly as to never having seen a flyswatter used a weapon against a mouse. As they say, there’s a first for everything.

Well, that little mouse would run one way and Dad would swat at him with a flyswatter…then he’d run another and Mom would scream and throw a towel at him. Then he’d run at me…poke his head out from under the couch just enough that I couldn’t swat him with the newspaper. I really think he was trying to size me up, see if he could make a dash past me. Maybe he thought since I had a paper I’d just read to him.

Either that or he was catching his breath.

He eventually ended up under an antique buffet in the corner and the process started all over again. That mouse ran so much I could hear him huffing and puffing. Dad eventually got him with the flyswatter—who’da thought that, huh? But the whole process of the hunt took nearly an hour.

I wonder what mouse tastes like? I bet it tastes like chicken.

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No Bibles in churches?

One advantage to visiting around Churches so much is that we get to see a wide variety of good preaching and good choirs…and of course, some not quite as good. BJ and I also look for good Sunday School classes, or small groups, or whatever you want to call them. One of the things I’ve noticed, and I’m not sure if it is just Southern Baptists doing this or other denominations do as well, but many Southern Baptist Sunday School classes don’t even break out a Bible!

Let me explain…

I like to find Sunday School classes with folks that aren’t afraid to speak up and talk about the material they (hopefully) studied. I do not enjoy sitting through a small group “sermon.” I’m prepared to listen to the Pastor’s sermon, but I want the small group to participate, to actually try to figure out how to apply lessons to our own lives.

But I digress…

Most SBC Sunday Schools now use published educational material. Or, I should say most of the ones we’ve been to the last 10 years, including those in Alabama, Tennessee, Arkansas and Mississippi. This material, generally a study through one book or two from the Bible, contains the verses, explanations of the scripture and why it’s relevant to us today…and then some questions for us to ponder upon finishing. There’s no “reason” to pick up your Bible at all because it’s all right there…in the handy little study guide.

I find it odd that a denomination that preaches so much on the inerrancy of the scripture and the ideas that believers must “stand” on the word and all that stuff has—or is in the process of—doing away with the very thing they’re standing on. Okay, it’s not that they’re really “doing away” with it, but why on earth would they continue to encourage it’s non-use via members? Why would churches continue to use material that allows members to keep their Bibles closed?

I think maybe it’s because Church members have become lazy in their use of the Bible and Bible study. What’s happened is that Lifeway, the Southern Baptist Convention’s version of Barnes and Noble, is producing “education material” for the mass of Baptist churches and the Baptist churches are gobbling it up. If you’ve never seen the Lifeway material, I’m not suggesting it is bad, but I am suggesting it is making believers lazy. Lifeway Sunday School material prints the scripture verses for the lesson in both KJV (for the old folks in the SBC: “Hey, if the KJV was good enough for St. Paul, it’s good enough for me!”) and in the Holman Standard, or the Lifeway owned Bible.

And don’t think I’m picking on Lifeway, most of the material out there is doing it—Lifeway is just the most popularly purchased. Lifeway, like any other material, has some good stuff and some bad stuff.

But my whole point is that I think Churches should be using material that encourages members to actually open their Bible and not just the study book. Who knows, they might get interested in the chapter they’re reading and actually read a little more!


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