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Four questions to help you mine your life for story ideas

Most of my writing is personal. No matter what genre I’m writing in—poetry, creative nonfiction, or fiction—much of what I write about comes from my personal experience. In her post, “What obsessions will end up in your writing?” my blog partner, Carly, asks us to consider what events in our lives have “marked us.” Looking to these events and memories can be a treasure trove of story ideas.

What memories or stories haunt you?

I still remember reading a news article over ten years ago about an older couple that went out for a drive and got lost for three days because they both had Alzheimer’s and couldn’t remember where they lived. This short article in the paper has stayed with me all these years. Obviously, it will become a short story someday.

What poems or spoken-word performances inspire you?

A few years ago, I watched the movie “Howl,” about beat poet Allen Ginsburg’s masterpiece of the same name. Part of the movie featured the actor James Franco, who played Ginsburg, reading aloud his poem. Getting in sync with the beat of the poem, I ended up writing one of my best poems ever—a sestina. You can read about that experience in this earlier postWhen you find a poem that resonates with you, write down what strikes you about it and how you can emulate it in your own writing.

What traumatic events in your life can be turned into art?

With every traumatic event I’ve experienced in my life—death of a loved one, death of a pet, illness, surgery, heartbreak—I’ve never been able to write about the experience until well after the event. I need time to process the experience and find a place of neutrality. This doesn’t mean that I don’t write during this time—I might keep a journal and write about my feelings or jot down things that happened or the facts of a situation.

As I sat with my mother on the last day of her life, I jotted down notes that I thought I might want to remember later. Even if I never use the notes for my writing, having them can trigger other memories. If you find yourself in crisis, write down what’s happening. You never know what it might inspire later on.

What daily observances can fuel your writing?

I live in an area of the Pacific Northwest where ferries are a fact of life. If I want to get to Seattle, I take the ferry. If I want to go to Bellingham or Canada, I take the ferry. Fortunately, for me, a ferryboat contains a plethora of character details and information. One of my favorite lines in my poem “Overboard” comes from watching a young man jangle his keys as he waited in line to buy his lunch. Each time I ride the ferry, or hang out at a coffee shop or walk through our little town, my writer’s eye is on alert for anything unusual or colorful.

As you mine your life, write down the events or memories that intrigue you or resonate with you at some level. Look at the above categories and write down your own ideas for future writing projects.

2 Comments Post a comment
  1. Great advice!

    July 9, 2013

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