The Writer As Sponge

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The biggest difference between writers and normal people may not be the writer’s ability to string interesting thoughts into coherent sentences. The mechanics of creative writing can be taught. The key difference may be the process that occurs before the first word is written. The moment of creation, random and chaotic as human conception, is a hackneyed talking point when writers are interviewed. Although trite, Where did you get the idea is a question that honors an author’s unique perspective. Even with story lines that aren’t novel, the unstated implication of the question is that your view is worth discussing. On the other hand, I’ve never heard an interviewer ask When did you realize sentences have subjects and predicates.

This thought occurred as I watched the Bravo network premiere of Tabatha Takes Over. Formerly Tabatha’s Salon Takeover, each episode of the first three seasons focused on Tabatha Coffey’s drastic makeover of a failing salon. In the time-collapsed span of an hour, Tabatha uses her professional experience, caustic tongue, and no BS attitude to turn the business around, literally saving some from bankruptcy. This season is different. While last night’s episode focused on a salon, subsequent shows will feature other businesses. So what gives Tabatha the ability, or even the nerve to “fix” companies outside of her profession? I think it has little to do with her knowledge of any particular industry, and everything to do with her knowledge of process. In particular, the process needed to take raw human resources and shape them into a productive business. And that idea leads this story back to writing.

Writing involves the same process: taking disparate, random, uncooperative thoughts and spinning them into compelling narrative. That’s the part that happens before your fingers ever touch the laptop’s home keys. Again, it’s what distinguishes writers from people who say I wouldn’t know what to write about. The creative’s ability to be a sponge is crucial. As a professional videographer and editor, that’s one reason I enjoy reality shows like Project Runway and Top Chef. They occupy a space far outside of my day job. Yet, watching them, I absorb creative energy from the contestants. Seeing how other crafty types approach a problem unleashes my own craftiness.

Be a writing sponge! Look in unusual places for new ideas. Start a new hobby or revive one you’ve set aside. Visit local restaurants and stores you’ve never been to. Sample a food you haven’t tasted. And always keep that pad and pen close to document the flood of good ideas.

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