I have read a lot about those writers who keep little notebooks for jotting down their ideas. The ideas that come to them while they are on the subway, in the grocery store, or weeding the garden. They hear birds sing, and suddenly inspiration hits—or an unusual person crosses their path, and they are struck with an idea for a new novel. These are the writers who are so filled with big ideas that they have to write them all down, so that they won’t forget them.
I am not one of those writers. When I am at the grocery, I am thinking about what in God’s name I can make for dinner. I don’t garden, and there aren’t any subways in Dayton, Ohio. And if I had a little notebook, I would probably lose it.
I have also read many interviews with famous writers who say that they have a very rigid schedule for their craft. They wake, have coffee, sit down at the computer in their pjs, and write until lunch. They eat sensibly, and then write until dinner. Or, in the case of other, more erratic geniuses, they write, drink whiskey, smoke, have affairs, and become famous after they die of dissipation. I am neither organized enough to write every day, nor do I get drunk very often. So that is out.
Here is what I do as a writer. And for heaven’s sake, it is not all that interesting. I go about my business every day, thinking about broccoli and how we should eat more of it. I notice all the cobwebs that lurk in the corners of my living room ceiling, and I vow to be a better housekeeper. I walk my dog. I notice that the leaves on my philodendron are turning yellow. I wonder why the kids walking past my window on their way home from school manage to stay warm in forty degree weather wearing flip flops and unzipped jackets. I walk my dog. I take the occasional nap. I watch shows about tiny houses and wonder how on earth people live on top of one another. I walk my dog.
Then, at bedtime, as I begin to lose consciousness, ideas float into my head. Characters. That girl with the unzipped coat and flip flops might just become the teller of a tale about her family. Her mother serves way too much broccoli. Maybe she has a best friend whose family lives in a tiny house. I get up, go downstairs, and start writing.
Some writers are inspired by sunsets, grand passions, or the angst that they carry around with them from an unresolved love affair. These writers write books that go down in history for their gorgeous prose and exciting romances and intricate plot lines.
I write about the quotidian. Cobwebs. Popsicles. Ohio. Broccoli. And I do it in the middle of the night. I guess you could say that I am not that much of a genius, I lack discipline, and I don’t have a “big idea” to build a book around. But what I do have is what so many other people have: a small, unexciting life that is filled with little things. Little things that I string together into a story that reflects life in middle America. My life, and the lives of so many of us who have lots of small stories to tell. But small stories sometimes are the best ones, because so many people carry those stories around inside for years without revealing them. I write for those people. I am one of them.