Your Past Is a Treasure Trove – Use It!

There’s an old saying that you can’t go home again.  But that phrase is in direct contradiction with the popular scribe’s adage to “write what you know.”

When trying to come up with ideas, look no further than your past.  If you are a fiction writer, your life’s experiences are amazing and worthy of exploration.  Obviously, I’m not suggesting that you give us a word-for-word reenactment of what actually occurred.  But in regards to theme, regret, what-ifs … the past is a powerful writing prompt.

I firmly believe most fiction writers use some kind of personal experience with each and every piece of writing that they create.  The trick is not to get too constrained by the facts.  A writer must always be willing to fictionalize.  A writer needs to know when it’s the proper time to embellish, embolden, and flat-out lie.

Here are a few personal examples.  My short story “Bitterness” is about a young boy trapped inside of a closed camper by his older brother.  This absolutely happened to me in real life.  The ending is fabricated, but much of the story is based on truth–just embellished a little.  “Childhood Demons” is based upon the fact that I used to see creepy demon faces in the wood paneling of my bedroom.  That’s the basis of the story, but everything else is (thankfully) complete fiction.  My dad once told me about how, when he and my mother were newly married, he had to rescue the family dog and her puppies from an area flooding under their trailer.  This sparked the idea that turned into “Mother’s Day.”

A few ideas I’ve lately been bouncing around include the time a coach asked me why I quit high school basketball–I lied through my teeth to him.  Another potential story is about when a drunk knocked on my apartment door in the middle of the night and insisted the apartment belonged to him.  Finally, I think a funny story could be about the time I got smart with a telemarketer and they got even more aggressive with me.  These are just ideas.  Who knows if I’ll follow through with them?

The point is, everyday something happens in your life that could be a story.  Take an event, turn up your imagination, and ask, “What if?”  What if I’d fought back against that bully?  What if I’d taken that amazing job offer?  What if I gave that homeless person a dollar?

Our lives are ripe with possibilities.  We live the literal, but the imaginable is infinite.  So … what’s your story?

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(Did you enjoy this article?  Check out Scott William Foley’s short stories HERE!)

The Myth Of Uninterrupted Writing Time

There’s a mythical tale about the writer who wrote, uninterrupted, day after day after day.  The world outside stayed away, society kept at bay, and the writer wrote what he may.  Inspiration struck, which was always his luck, and nothing he ever wrote sucked.

Yeah, no.

That’s not the real world.  If you’re a writer waiting to only write when afforded uninterrupted time, I’ve got some harsh words for you: you will either never write, or you will never truly live.

For example … My daughter had some friends over tonight to watch a movie.  During that time, my wife spent special time with our youngest child.  Between getting drinks, making popcorn, checking in, etc., I edited my latest work.  Did I have to stop every so often?  You bet.  At this very moment, I’m the only one awake in my house.  It’s eleven at night.  I wanted to write this article today.  But, I wanted to first edit that other piece as well.  So here I am.

My point is, writing is like regular exercise.  You have to be committed to it, you have to want to do it, and you have to fit it in wherever your schedule allows.  It’s rare that I get more than thirty minutes uninterrupted at a time when home.  Sometimes I piecemeal a simple story or article throughout the course of an entire day.  Ten minutes here, five minutes there–it adds up.  Is that ideal?  No, of course not.

But for me, the ideal is being an engaged father, an attentive husband, a good friend, and an active participant in this thing called life.  I will never sacrifice those things for uninterrupted writing time.

Maybe if I ever hit it big time and could afford to stay home and write while my kids were at school, maybe then I could get those large chunks of uninterrupted writing time, but I enjoy working full-time.  My career as a high school English teacher fulfills me deeply, and it allows me to immerse myself in many different points of view and walks of life.  I feel as though working in a public school grants me the privilege of understanding the entire scope of modern day society.

I’ve been more productive in terms of writing these last two years than ever before, and I’ve also been at my busiest.  I work my writing in whenever I can.  It isn’t always pretty, and it’s usually never uninterrupted, but it happens because I want it to.

That’s the crux of what I want to say: writers must want to write.  Regularly.  Faithfully.  Even zealously.  It’s work.  It’s fun work, to be sure, but it’s work.

So, please, don’t fall prey to the myth.  Stop waiting for the perfect time to write and just start writing.

Get to work.

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(Did you enjoy this article?  Check out Scott William Foley’s short stories HERE!)