Sunday, June 24, 2012

Mulcho Man: Where One Writer Finds His Ideas

I love this cartoon because at almost every reading I've either attended or given, the author is invariably asked, "Where do you get your ideas?" The shower seems to be a popular idea incubator among writers.

My ideas, however, usually lurk outside. I've come to believe that they hide out there on purpose, as if to make me live up to a boast I made twenty-seven years ago when Joanne and I were considering purchasing the house we eventually did buy and have lived in ever since:  a cozy (realtor-speak for tiny) house on an acre of weedy grass, unruly bushes, and lots and lots of trees--which meant, every autumn, lots and lots of leaves.

"If we buy this place," Joanne said, "We'll need to hire someone to do all the yard work."

"No way," I said in my best Paul Bunyan. "It'll be good exercise for me."

I don't enjoy yard work--never did. But once I'm into it, my mind wanders to whatever writing project is underway. I start talking to the characters as I mow the lawn, eavesdrop on their conversations while I do the edging, play "what if" with plot lines while trimming the $&#(&***  forsythia.

 A few years ago, I came up with an idea for cutting back on the amount of lawn I'd need to cut. I created vast beds of mulch around the trees and various bushes and shrubs Joanne had planted. For some reason, she usually undertook these beautification projects while I was away on a business trip. Anyway, my brilliant labor-saving plan shaved a few minutes off the mowing, but added several days each year to increasingly (as I age) back-breaking task of distributing the mountain of mulch dumped in our driveway to their various spots on our cozy little acre.

Today I was chipping my way through a mountain of mulch when one of my major characters approached me. She'd been edited out of several scenes, and I had been considering getting rid of her entirely. She watched me shovel and sweat for awhile and then, just I was about to lug another full wheelbarrow up the hill in front of the house, said, "The story will be stronger without me."

This was not welcome news. We'd been together several years. But she was right. She knew it. I knew it. And as usually happens after an outdoors encounter with one of my characters, I was eager to get back in the house and back to the writing. I just wish that, in this case, that character had helped with the mulch before taking off.

So... where do you get your ideas?


  1. Love this, Jim.

    I'm going to share it to the Teachers Write page (a virtual writers camp for teachers and librarians I'm helping to run this summer... over 1,000 participants strong). I think they'll appreciate the read.

  2. Thank you, Gae! Good luck with the camp!

  3. Fascinating and entertaining. ;) Always a joy to get a glimpse inside the mind of a writer.

  4. Scary at times, isn't it, Dana? :)
    Thanks for stopping by!