Two reasons why I’m sure you will never run out of ideas:
Do you know who Flannery O’Connor is? She wrote a classic called A Good Man Is Hard To Find and after I read that, she had my lifelong love and respect. Flannery O’Connor is known for saying,
“Anybody who has survived his childhood has enough information about life to last him the rest of his days.”
Reason #1: The first seven years of your life
Whether you consider your childhood disturbingly troubled or happily boring, there’s more than enough there to provide you with material for the rest of your life.
If you don’t believe me, let’s have a chat (scroll down for my email address) because I have unique ways of helping you evoke what you’ve got inside.
If you do believe me, good! Make sure you paste Ms. O’Connor’s quote on your writing tablet for the days you’re suffering from writer’s block.
“What we describe as our ‘character’ is based on the memory-traces of our impressions; and, moreover, the impressions which have had the greatest effect on us — those of our earliest youth — are precisely the ones which scarcely ever become conscious.” ~Sigmund Freud, The Interpretation of Dreams
Psychology tells us that your character is formed within the first seven years.In those formative years, you absorbed impressions through all your sensory organs, as well as cultural conditioning from your family. You can abandon your subconscious but your subconscious will never abandon you. It is always there, waiting to be mined.
It is your job, as a writer, to plumb the depths of your own subconscious in order to find your voice (non-fiction) or your characters’ voices (fiction). Your subconscious is a gold mine of writing material — you will never run out of memories, sense impressions, and your unique perspective.
People in the exact same situations you were in all have their own vantage point. Yours cannot be copied or duplicated. It is yours. But you must discover it, bring it to the surface, and articulate it in your signature language.
(A side benefit, by the way, is that in addition to facing your flaws and vulnerabilities and using them creatively, you will discover opportunities to pick up where you left off and consciously begin to build character. You can never have too much character.)
Reason #2: Everything is material.
To be a writer is to be cursed with a passion to reveal secrets. Another way of putting it is that writers are truth-speakers. That is why fiction always contains some autobiographical material. And non-fiction always has some embellishment and embroidery. Try both genres and test it for yourself.
But I digress.
Back to secrets. By their very definition, secrets are supposed to be left unsaid. But if a writer is to freely express herself, she will have to break loyalty oaths and betrayal bonds (a fascinating psychological dilemma that I will write about another time). Using an alias is one way to negotiate this territory.
If you choose to stick with your real name, perhaps Nora Ephron can inspire you. She learned from her mother, playwright and screenwriter Phoebe Ephron, that “everything is copy.” That meant that everything that happens, be it to you or someone else, no matter how emotionally devastating or humiliating, is grist for the mill. You process the event by writing about it.
Read Ms. Ephron’s innovative novel, Heartburn, to learn from the master.
You will never run out of ideas because
(1) the memories from the first seven years of your life contain more material than you can ever use up, and
(2) everything is material. You just have to be brave enough to excavate this material from your subconscious. Then you need to use it in a way that meets your personal code of ethics.
Figuring out how to do this both requires character and builds character.
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