Can’t think of anything to write about? If you’re at a loss for words, try looking at a picture. Pull out that box of old photos and unearth one of your favorites. Better yet, grab your camera and take a fresh shot of anything that inspires you—trees, animals, food, people, the sunset. Then go back to your desk and study the picture. Imagine all the possibilities it has to offer for a story.
Take this photo of a buck that appeared outside my husband’s office window. At first glance it’s just a buck, one of many we Minnesotans see meandering through the wooded areas of our cities and suburbs. But look more closely at the image and consider all the ways you could write about it.
Start with the buck’s physical traits, like his enormous size and thick belly. This guy could easily weigh 200 pounds or more. Look closely at his impressive antlers. How many branches or points do you count? Notice his eyes. He’s staring directly at the photographer (my husband), intensely and fearlessly. Now study the scene. He’s alone in a wooded area in the wintertime. But imagine what you can’t see too. What’s beyond the trees? Are there other deer nearby? How did he get here? What’s his next move? Is he in any danger?
Together these details could set the stage for an engaging fiction story, either for children or adults. Alone they offer numerous topics for a nonfiction piece—from antler uses to buck behavior to wild animals living among civilization. The point is, just by studying a picture you can come up with all kinds of writing ideas. Try it and see how easily the words begin to flow.
When I was a kid, I loved using commas. I wouldn’t just use them wherever I should, either. I’d use them wherever I could. I must have thought all those squiggly little marks made my writing look smart and professional. They certainly made the page more decorative. But as the years went on I started to get distracted by all the commas. As ornate as they were, they were breaking up the flow of my words. Did every single one of them really need to be there? I’d ask myself. Often the answer was no. The writing made just as much sense without the comma and was a heck of a lot easier to read.
That’s not to say I don’t like commas anymore. I do. I still use them whenever I need to. They help me break up lists, set off clauses, and avoid any confusion that would result without them. Sometimes I even use them to give the reader a chance to pause. What I don’t do, though, is use commas wherever possible. Years ago I might have written this: At first, she worked, not only to feed her family, but also to gain skills and, therefore, confidence. Today I would write that sentence like this: At first she worked not only to feed her family but also to gain skills and therefore confidence. I think I’ve learned to respect the comma. Overusing it just adds clutter and choppiness. Worse, too many commas degrades them, makes them look cheap.
I say if you love commas (and many of us writers do), use them when you need to but pass on them when you don’t. Your writing will be clearer and more professional without all those squiggly little marks peppering the page.
My writing pal, Riley
Welcome to my blog, where I plan to offer writing tips and ramblings on being a writer from Minnesota. This is my first official blog post, and I can’t think of a better way to start than to talk about my dog because, after all, writers and dogs go hand-in-paw. Currently, I’m on dog number three of my writing career, and I’ve come to realize that I can’t write without a four-legged companion at my side. I tried once, between dog number one and dog number two, but that little hiatus lasted a mere six weeks before I caved in to my canine fetish.
Now, I understand how some writers may not want a dog or can’t have one because of allergies, the extra expense, a new baby, etc. But if you’re a writer and you don’t have a good reason not to get a dog, here are some excellent reasons why you should:
- A dog will help curb your loneliness. Writing is a solitary business, and while you need peace and quiet to write, you can also get lonely at your desk all day. A dog won’t bother you with conversation, but his constant presence will remind you that you’re not alone. Sometimes, that’s all we writers need.
- A dog is a good listener. Of course, if you want to talk, a dog is all ears. You can tell him about that sentence you’re struggling with or read him a part of your manuscript – it doesn’t matter what you have to say; he’ll listen to anything. Who knows? He might even turn out to be the perfect sounding board.
- A dog won’t reject you. That’s right, a dog will never, ever make you feel bad about your writing, no matter how bad your day is going. You might receive six rejections in the mail and be ready to hand in the towel, but your dog will still look at you like your God’s gift to the writing world. How reaffirming is that?
- A dog gives you a reason to take a break. Taking breaks can be a challenge for writers, especially if we’re really on a roll. But a dog makes you take a break. When he’s gotta go, you’ve gotta get off your butt and let him out – or better yet, he’ll give you a good reason to go for a walk and get some much needed exercise.
- A dog offers a plethora of writing ideas. In case you haven’t noticed, dogs are hot topics among readers today. Living with a dog will give you all kinds of things to write about, from personal anecdotes to dog health issues to specific breed information. Just don’t make the mistake I did and think that your dog idea is too dumb to sell. Trust me, no idea is too dumb. Read about it here.
For those of you writers who have a dog, I’d love to hear how your canine contributes to your writing life.