Great stories are helpful in many ways.
They keep people from nodding off in church.
They help children go to sleep at night.
They keep adults awake, turning the pages, wanting to find out what happens.
They’re useful in selling a product.
After so many years of education, we’ve become so well trained to think inside the box, encouragement to think outside the box isn’t enough.
Would you consider sliding down the banister or skipping out to the mailbox? How about driving a different route to work or the store? Try wearing your watch upside down or walking the opposite direction around the park. Look for ways to force yourself to pay attention so what you thought was ordinary can be seen as extraordinary.
We must see the world differently, or we will be boring writers like so many others, just following the style of what we’ve been taught and what we’ve read.
In September 2009, Frank Ball attended a Writing Intensive with literary agent Donald Maass in San Antonio. He was sitting on the front row, where he could see out the picture window to the River Walk below. Two men in white uniforms were sweeping the sidewalk. He was impressed by the city’s diligence in keeping the place clean for tourists, but that didn’t explain why Maass was smiling. What had he seen that Frank had missed? Maass began his explanation with what Frank had observed, and then he said, “There’s a crane down there, turning his head back and forth, supervising.” That’s when Frank realized he needed to become a better observer.
A child’s mind sees everything as something new. The adult mind tends to say, “Everything is pretty much the way I’ve seen it before.” If there’s nothing new under the sun, we have nothing to write about. But if we can restore our childlike mind, everything becomes interesting again, and we’ll never lack for something extraordinary to write about.
When kids learn English, they aren’t always clear on the meaning of words. Does a sign lettered Off-ice refer to a room near the ice house? As adults, we can appreciate the connection of familiar words to unexpected meanings.
Frank has a large collection of such words, and he’s constantly adding more. Here are a few of his own making, which he posted recently to the website:
- Frankincense —What Frankenstein had after he was given a brain
- Hot Dog Stand — What wieners do when they can’t find a seat
- Monkey — Means to enter the monastery when it’s locked
- Pork Chop — A pig’s karate movement
- Spoiled Milk — What you get from pampered cows
- Spyware — Appropriate attire for an agent during a covert operation
- Stick — A boomerang that doesn’t work
To read more of the collection, Click Here.
To please our kindergarten teachers, we learned to color inside the lines. No longer could we have purple trees. To be the best, we knew we had to be like somebody else. “Stand in line, wait your turn, don’t interrupt,” we were told. Predictably, but so slowly we never noticed, our creativity faded.
Maya Angelou, author of I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, says, “By the time the creative people are ten or twelve, they want to be like everyone else.”
Today, more than ever before, we have to watch what we write. In this age of political correctness, picking up the wrong color or going outside the lines can get us fired. As we try to find the right words, fearing what our audience might think can tie both hands and condemn us to life without parole in the writer’s block.
We don’t want to lock ourselves up, but what can we do? It’s impossible to be open and honest and cautious and reserved at the same time.
When writing your first draft, pretend you’re writing in a journal that nobody will ever read. Say what you feel. Get it out there. Don’t worry about what others will think.
Later, after all your creativity has erupted onto the page, you can edit out the parts that might offend your audience. Then you’ll never have to worry about being locked up.