Published in the Rains County Leader on February 28, 2017:
Writing is a difficult, lonely undertaking, but it must have been almost impossible before the advent of computers. I have watched movie scenes in which a devoted author sits down at a small, candlelit desk in a remote corner of the house, dips her quill in an ink well and pens a classic best seller that haunts English students for centuries to come. I probably should be inspired by such ambition and determination, but instead, I’m left wondering how in the world she managed without a word processor and an on-line Thesaurus. Before my first book hit the inbox of a publisher, it had been edited at least fourteen times. Can you imagine how many inkwells I would have drained?
Another amazing thing about earlier writers, or at least the way they are portrayed, is that they seemed to write without any resource material. I’m not smart enough for that. I not only pick the brains of my friends, but I also spend hours surfing the Internet. My two most recent projects are crime related, and an audit of my computer history would reveal visits to sites dealing with arrest and arraignment procedures, criminal law and penalties for various crimes, tattoo parlors, motorcycle clubs, and courtroom procedures, among other things. Did you know there are websites that tell you how to word an objection or present an exhibit into evidence in a trial?
Sunday night I discovered another valuable Internet source – writing prompts. During a normal week, something usually happens to spark an idea for my weekly article. By Sunday night, all I have to do is corral my wandering thoughts into 600-800 words and submit the completed column. Occasionally, though, Sunday night comes, and I’m as blank as my computer screen. This was one of those weeks.
After lunch, I sat down in my comfortable chair with my computer in my lap and waited for inspiration. Since nothing came immediately, I napped for a little while – it is, after all, a comfortable chair. Then, I checked my email, Facebook, and Twitter, and when I failed to find inspiration there, I wandered into the kitchen. I didn’t find an idea there either, but I did find four Hershey’s kisses.
I returned to my computer, accessed Google, my favorite Internet search engine, and went in search of writing prompts. A writing prompt is a sentence or two designed to spark an idea for a short story or to shake loose a case of writer’s block, so I was curious about whether there were websites that might offer me some help. I found a few sources, but my favorite was a Pinterest page completely devoted to writing prompts. I spent some time wandering through it, and I found a few prompts that were worth sharing.
- I’m not going to help you take over the world. No, not even if you try to bribe me with cookies.
- Yes, but last week a dragon almost set my hair on fire, so it’s your turn to negotiate.
- You find a stack of “Missing Persons” news clippings under your parents’ bed – all with your photo.
- Small fire! I said to set a small fire! This is not a small fire!
- It was a heck of a way to die!
- I’m either going out for ice cream or to commit a heinous crime. I’ll decide in the car.
- A walk in the woods helps release tension. The fact that I’m dragging a body behind me is irrelevant.
- “Sir, we’re surrounded.” “Excellent! We can attack in any direction!”
- Be a veterinarian for dragons, they said. It’ll be fun, they said.
- The lights go out for five seconds. When they turn on again, you see a note stuck to your window. It contains one word: RUN!
I can’t say I was inspired, but I was entertained for a few minutes. After I took another break to look up a recipe for pork chops and put dinner in the oven, an idea began to form, and I met another deadline. The creative process is much easier with computers, but it is still unpredictable and frustrating. Nevertheless, it can be habit forming – so I’ll see you the next time the muse hits, or the next time I have a deadline!
A LONG AND WINDING ROAD: A Caregiver’s Tale of Life, Love, and Chaos