Good ideas come from readers

Milestones are always inspiring and often provide a sense of accomplishment. This week marks exactly five years that I have had this little corner of the editorial page to vent, criticize, inspire, preach and inform. Pretty much all the things I said I wasn’t going to do in my first column.

People often ask where the column ideas come from and I usually reply, “The universe gives me the ideas, I just write them down.” I have learned that if I sit down specifically to write, nothing happens. My two fingers are poised over the keyboard waiting to pounce, but not a drop of creativity drips onto the page.

However, if someone comes up to me in the mall or the restaurant and says, “Hey, you know what you should write about…,” the column is forming before I get home. Sometimes the tinkle of a wind chime in the evening will shake loose a memory or a line from a song on the radio will conjure up a picture that I can convert into a thousand words. The secret is to let the words find you, because if you go looking for them they hide in the creases and crannies of your brain and you’ll never find them.

I have 260 or so of these columns taking up megabytes on my laptop and occasionally, someone will suggest I put them into a book along with some of my other writing. Here’s the problem with that. Writing is fun, I enjoy it and when it’s done, I push ‘send’ and off it goes to the editor and it’s done until next week.

To put them into book form is work. I have self-published three books and each one was a chore. You have choose the font, the design, the front cover, the back cover, create an index, come up with a dedication, decide the order and format the whole thing so it looks good. Worst of all, at some point you have to involve an editor.

One of my writing partners and I finished a fiction novel we had written, high fived each other and sent it off to an editor, just to say we had done it, not expecting any changes of course. It came back covered in red ink. “Lose this character; this chapter is redundant; this page makes no sense; where did this character come from?”

What a blow to someone who always got his English Literature assignments back with “Well done Jim, B+!” The writer with a faint heart will toss the manuscript away but the courageous ones make a pot of coffee and start pounding the keyboard again, only to send their prize-winning novel out to publishers who reject it and send you back a semi-encouraging form letter. Just one more blow to the ego.

The successful people in life tell us that if a task is easy, it probably wasn’t worth doing in the first place, but for me it has to fun as well.

So here we go starting year number six. I need you to stop me on the street or come over to the table in the restaurant and hook up the jumper cables to my creative battery, and get the ideas purring away.

Maybe, if we’re all still having fun, we’ll have a couple of books for you to buy next Christmas. At least that’s what McGregor says.

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