Tag Archives: writing tips

A story idea from the rough city streets.

Readers sometimes ask where I am when I get ideas for stories, books and columns.  The two most common places for such inspiration are the shower and the car.  Lately I noticed that I seem to get more ideas while driving.  Today was a good example.

This morning I took an alternate route to work just for the sake of change.  I drove through a rather upscale residential neighborhood between my home and office.  As I drove through the neighborhood I noticed that the streets were in a serious state of disrepair.  This is becoming a major issue in my city.  It is becoming painfully obvious that the city does not have anywhere near adequate funds to repair or maintain its streets.  Furthermore, the outlook is not good. It is really beginning to hurt the city’s image.

As I pondered the situation a story idea – a scene, really – came to mind.  In the scene, an adviser to the mayor walks into the mayor’s office and announces that he has a great idea about what to do about the city’s street situation.  He tells the mayor that the richer neighborhoods are able and willing to pay for their own street maintenance.  They are frustrated and want action.  Of course, so do the drivers in the not-so-rich neighborhoods.  The adviser has done some voter analysis and discovered that there are twice as many voters in the poorer neighborhoods as in the richer neighborhoods.  He suggests that the mayor should plant a mental seed with some influencer in the rich neighborhood that the city would allow for the rich neighborhood to create an overlay (pun intended) tax district and that the extra taxes collected would be designated for street improvements in the rich neighborhood.  The residents of the richer neighborhoods would jump at the idea because they get better streets and know that their money is being spent on them.  Thus, the city’s current number of streets to maintain would be reduced significantly and the city could focus on spending money on the streets in the poorer neighborhoods – where the votes are.

Now just imagine how such a scene could be part of a larger story.

Pen and paper or keyboarding?

Books and articles for writers often extol the virtues of putting thoughts on paper with a pen. Some mention the physical connection between the brain and the hand. Some say that it is more natural to write by hand.

Other writers say that keyboarding is far superior, especially if there is a computer around. In an interview with the Wall Street Journal about the iPad compared to a tablet PC Steve Jobs said that on the tablet “…handwriting was probably the slowest input method ever invented and that it was doomed to failure.”

So, which is better? The answer, of course, is that it depends. It depends not just on the preference of the writer, but the time and situation as well. I sometimes feel more productive and creative when manipulating the keys. It’s sort of like playing a musical instrument, especially the piano. When thoughts and ideas are really flowing, writing by hand slows me down.

An yet, some of my better writing occurs when I write by hand, and then enter what I have written into the computer. This method creates a wonderful editing step. Sometimes I yearn for the pen. One thing I like about the pen is that I can doodle. I draw pictures, charts, cartoons and just whatever helps me organize my thoughts. Margins on paper are a great place to put down ideas or things that do not need to be forgotten or that the writer can come back to. I also like underlining, highlighting, arrows, circles, and the like. Using pen and paper to write is also more convenient, especially when traveling by air where it is almost impossible to open a laptop computer.

In short, whichever works better for the individual writer is the preferred choice.