I’m in a bathroom in a small town in Mexico. It’s the same as at home…but different. You can’t drink the water, toilet paper is not a given, and you check the water before you put soap on your hands because functioning faucets are not a given either….but the people are helpful, the scenery is amazing, and the weather is FAR better than the icy, cold stuff I left at home.
Everything has a certain charm.
Then I’m staring at the decorations on the wall thinking they look familiar…but what are they?
After success at the water faucet, it dawned on me: those familiar divots are the bottoms of plastic soda bottles, painted and glittered and glue-gunned to the hot-pink wall.
Later in the day, I see a snowman made from old plastic cups, an aloe plant tucked into an old tire turned sideways and carved into a planter, and more soda-bottom decorations. I’m beginning to see old things in new ways and later that night, the story ideas begin flowing.
As a writer with a day job, (several in fact: work, kids, spouse, laundry!) It’s easy for me to be writing productively and still slip into a rut. I know that’s happening when I hear that overly critical nemesis of mine whispering in my ear “everything you write is BOR-ing!”
A few years ago at a workshop, Stephen Roxburgh of Namelos, shared the editing wisdom of a six-year-old family member: Keep the good stuff, take out the boring parts. I loved that advice because it’s dead-on-accurate the way kids’ observations often are. But how do you see what’s boring when your nemesis shifts from whispering to chanting or shouting?
Traveling far from home, I stared at the signs in windows and I admired the way the houses lined the street like candy-colored blocks. The clouds we flew through looked like pink cotton candy at sunset, the language was different, the little towns went completely dark and night and the landscape and birds were like nothing I’d ever seen before.
We strive to paint those pictures with our words, to create images that stick, and to see things with fresh eyes. It’s easier when we’re out of our element.
We came home and the trees were lush, the ice was melted, and I saw my home differently. The sidewalks, the grocery store, the signs, and all the details jumped out at me in ways they hadn’t a few weeks earlier.
I remember: this is how the world is when you’re a kid, when you don’t already know and dismiss the details around you as you rush to the next destination, the next appointment, or the next obligation.
My nemesis has been quieter, if not totally silent, and I’ve promised myself more close-to-home trips to remind myself to look around and bring the inspiration to the page.
Originally published January 24, 2017