Do people come up to you and ask you to tell their story? Do you walk away from school visits with loads of new story ideas that kids give you like sticks of gum? Do adults drop hints about stories you could work on?
What about your family? Are they the worst of all?
You might be a writer if...you hear "you should write this" A LOT.
"You should write this" comes out of all corners. For a while, when I was still a newbie to writing, I didn't hear it at all. It's like being the new kid on the block. People around you can't figure out if you're in the writing gig for good, or you're goofing off.
Then that first book or article comes out, and whoa, ideas suddenly come flying toward you.
I didn't know what to do with them at first. Listen and nod politely? File them away? Write them out? Where is the advice on this in the writer operating instructions booklet?
What people want me to do, I've learned through trial and error, varies greatly. Okay, they all hope I write the ideas into something, but how those ideas should turn out is what varies so much.
Kids are the best. At school visits, I get all kinds of ideas tossed at me, like so many colorful balls. I try to volley them back because, you know, I might actually be talking to the next William Faulkner or Stephen King. You never know. Maybe all they need is a little push. I've seen some amazing stuff from kids nobody would ever expect had so much writing talent. So, each time a child tells me "you should write this" I say, "what if you did?" (And then there are a few ideas, I admittedly stick in my pocket. I did mention last week we authors like to pilfer.)
Adults are a little trickier. They sort of expect you to write out an idea if they take the time to tell you about it. Some of them are pretty good. A friend of mine met me and my family at our most favorite donut shop on Saturday before soccer. My family and I LOVE this donut shop. Family run. The donut maker is a real artist. He makes donuts into shapes and then colors them. I've never seen anything like it anywhere. And they taste fantabulous. It's worth traveling to Tulsa just to try them. Believe me. So it's probably not all that surprising that my friend suggested (as I was on my 3rd donut) I do an article on the origins of donuts. Now that happened to be a very good idea. Because I'm just itching to get back in the kitchen and interview this donut master, if he'll let me in. Plus, it turns out, the Dutch came up with donuts. So I'm altering my trip to Europe this summer to make a pass through Amsterdam so I can photograph some Dutch donuts. That was an amazing idea. No strings attached.
The tricky part comes when it's family. My immediate family is one thing. They live with me and they've learned that I pilfer, change up, and turn into something new. If they share an idea with me, who knows what it might turn into or where. And if it's my kids, I try to put the idea right back in their hands and challenge them to write something. I don't always succeed. Case in point. My daughter was at the opera this week. Her first time. She came home with three tickets.
Daughter: (Holds out tickets with huge smile on face) "I've got something for your blog."
Me: "Thanks, sweetie. That's really nice, but why don't you write about your trip?"
Daughter: (Face falls. Hand lowers.) "But I got them for you. I collected them off the floor so you'd have more than one. Can't you use them, please???"
Me: (Guilt-ridden and seriously impressed that her journalistic skills are kicking in so early.) "Okay."
Here they are:
When it comes to my extended family, grandparents, aunts, uncles, things get really tricky. I am my family's memory keeper. Not their story teller because that would mean I could pilfer and pillage history with abandon and then turn it into anything I want. Not when it's family. I'm the historian. The biographer. The living tape recorder (if such things still exist). When my family gives me an idea, they want it transferred to paper exactly as it happened. If I don't, well, there have been some sticky moments. And disppointment. Pencil thin lips and shaking heads. Sigh. Family events mean double duty. First record then take said events back to my secret writing lab and tinker with until I infuse them with new life Buahahahahhaha. (evil mad scientist laugh)
"You should write this". We get it a lot. It's often pretty helpful. Many of us use it. But what to do about the expectations that are attached to it? Maybe we should follow the movie industry, issue a disclaimer: The characters and events depicted in this piece are purely fictional. Any similarity to actual persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental.
Can I write with abandon now?