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How one award-winning writer finds story ideas in unlikely places

I find that the oddest moments or most unlikely observations have a way of providing material for stories and poems.

In an interview with Amy Purcell, who won first place in The Writer magazine’s Short Story Contest, she says she loves nature, is an avid reader of National Geographic, and often tears out pages about subjects that could serve as metaphors. She uses imagery of bees in her award-winning story, Home Repair, which was inspired by a trip to Home Depot. (See the February 2013 issue for more details, including winning entries for second and third place).

Random interactions often reveal details and nuances of people that I find I can use in poetry. Last summer, a landscaper who was sleuthing the source of a leak in my yard’s irrigation system inspired a poem about the hardness of life.

Slices of everyday life offer imagery, and a curious nature helps. The water treatment technician who maintained my home’s water filtration system said, “I like that you care about how things work. Most people don’t care.” He was passionate about his job and by the time he finished his work, a conversation about the chemistry of water turned into a philosophical discussion with the purity of water as a metaphor for something more. The conversation is still percolating in my mind, but I’m sure it will turn into a story at some point.

I’m constantly reminded about the value of engaging with everyone around me, asking questions, and watching for the quirky and heartbreaking details in what could seem mundane.

How do you mine the world around you for writing ideas?

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