"It's impossible to discourage the real writers; they don't give a damn what you say." Sinclair Lewis

Thursday, May 20, 2010

A Place to Start

So here you are, fellow writer, sitting at your word processor (or staring at a yellow pad of paper if you’re old fashioned), ready to launch your next project. Is it a full length book or a short story? Fiction or non-fiction? No matter. Your fingers are still. Your mind is churning. You’re trying to answer the age-old question many (or most?) writers must sometime ask themselves. What am I supposed to be writing about?

We’ve probably all struggled with “The Block” at one time or another. How does one deal with it? I can only tell you what I do to find a starting point. Maybe it will help. The next steps, rounding out an idea, laying out the plot, developing characters will come easier if you have an interesting place to begin.

I read a lot and pay attention to what’s happening in the world around me. I cut current events articles out of the paper. When waiting in the dentist’s office, when no one is looking, a magazine page gets quietly torn out and folded into my pocket. (Yeah, I know, I’m the one) I jot down ideas that hit me while watching wildlife in our yard, or when a friend tells me his troubles with a tyrannical boss, or when a childhood memory sneaks up on me when I’m not expecting it.

Back in my garret, these snippets find their way into my idea notebook…a large, green, three-ring binder stuffed with several lifetimes of story ideas waiting to be brought to life. The binder contains items I collected when I was in high school, more years ago than I care to count. It holds tidbits from current events and countless pages of everything in between.

So when the setting is right, and I’m ready to launch into something new, trying to decide where to start, out comes the binder. I generally write fiction, stories perhaps a little on the weird side. A yellowing news story about a cat who predicts the death of patients in a nursing home leads to a tale of a Bassett Hound who eases long-suffering patients into the great beyond. A note jotted down after magpies once killed our kitten becomes a story of a man forced to take irrational action to rid himself of overly aggressive birds. Ideas buried in my binder have surfaced to seed many of my other writing adventures; weird cloning scenarios, Chimpanzee DNA, overcrowded prisons, talkative terrorists, the significance of dog-years.

So you can see, the green binder provides me with plenty of story ideas to keep me out of trouble. There are many more waiting to be rediscovered inside. And I add something new to it often. Life is good.

Now if only someone would publish one of my little gems!

--Richard Rice

Richard grew up in Southern California and received his BS and MS degrees in Engineering from the University of California at Berkeley. In an exciting three-decade technical career, he was involved in NASA’s space program and in nuclear energy and novel energy production research for the Energy Department. He traveled extensively throughout North America, Europe and Asia, presenting the results of his work and collaborating with other research institutions. Richard began writing as a teenager, covering high school sports for the local newspaper. He continued writing throughout his career, producing a number of technical papers, articles and reports. He recently decided to end his engineering career and write full time. Since then, he has produced two novels and has started his third. He has also written several short stories, two of which were accepted by the Idaho Magazine. Richard lives with his family on the Snake River in Southeastern Idaho.


  1. I've tried putting all my ideas and thoughts in a binder but, alas, they invariably end up on scraps of paper all over my desk!


  2. Great post. That's a good suggestion about putting plot ideas in a binder. Like linda, mine arn't altogether. I've got notes and clippings in folders/paper bags, on the book shelf, under the desk....