Not too long ago I was given the opportunity to participate in a random act of culture at a nearby mall. I counted myself and a few friends among dozens of singers who gathered at the appointed hour at Crossgates Mall in Guilderland, New York, stood up when the music began, and belted out the Hallelujah Chorus. People stopped eating their burritos and pot stickers to stare and some even smiled and took pictures. I loaned my modest alto to the effort and our whole group was rewarded with thunderous applause at the last hallelujah. It was quite satisfying. Since then I’ve tried to apply that “random” mentality to my writing.
While channel surfing one evening I stopped at a popular talk show whose host was expounding on a poem by Rudyard Kipling, a poet I’ve always loved. As I listened to the analysis, words began to bounce around in my head. Being only a once in a while poet, I was nontheless motivated to get to the keyboard and pound out what I thought were Kipling inspired words. At least one editor thought they were and posted them in Lyrical Passion Poetry e-zine. My random bit of surfing paid off, and was quite satisfying.
Haven’t you ever been in a sudden situation where you think, I should write about this, but you rarely do? Maybe you didn’t have a pad and pen for notes or you were distracted by the cell phone, television or an annoying co-worker. Bad excuse. One good way to conquer that distractedness is to make use of three simple steps. They’ll help take random moments and turn them into story fodder.
1. Stare – that’s right, stare. Laser in on the scene before you and take mental pictures. Begin with the focal point of the incident and then widen your circle about ten feet. Be absolutely robotic about it if you have to. Nobody will even notice. Really.
2. Mumble – I know, sounds ridiculous, but you’ve got to reinforce those mental pictures. Studies have shown that you must repeat something at least 25 times to lock it into memory. Mumble descriptive words about the situation so you’ll remember them later. Was the woman wearing a red dress, red dress, red dress? Did the nurse bite her lip, bite her lip, bite her lip as she plunged the needle in? You get the idea.
3. Imagine – yourself typing the story as soon as your bottom hits the chair at the keyboard. Mentally stare at yourself in the chair as you drive home, mumbling the finer details you want to highlight. Then get into the chair ASAP and get the thing down. That’s what I did with my Kiplingesque poem found here at the bottom of THIS PAGE.
Random inspiration happens all the time. It could be in the garden, when you travel, when a song overtakes you, or when a child asks you why your ears are long like that. Take immediate advantage of the more striking scenarios and wrap your writing around them. You can remember stare, mumble, and imagine can’t you? Go about doing so and treat an editor or two to a story they’ll enjoy and want more of. Here are some diverse markets to try.
- Descant – Pays $100 honorarium
- Horizon Air – Pays $100-$450
- Greenprints – Pays up to $150; $20 for poems
- REI – Pays $12-15 per page
- Page 47 – Pays $25-$75
- West Branch Magazine – Pays $20-$100
- Children’s Writer – Pays $200-$300
- The Waiting Room – Pays $20 for stories; $10 per poem
- Country Magazine – Pays $250-$2,000 and $50 per poem
Susan Sundwall is a freelance writer and children’s playwright who sang at the mall in THIS STORY.