How do writers think of stuff like that?

Writers are often asked where they get their story ideas. We’ve talked about that here before. We’re observant and we like using our imaginations.

In day-to-day conversations, I’m likely to say one thing or another that results in somebody asking, “How can you think of something like that?”

What I want to say is “How can you not think of it?” The “it” always seems so obvious whether it’s humorous, ironic, sarcastic, or a lyrical or unique play on words. I don’t want to downplay one’s imagination, but when it comes to words, thinking of stuff is part of the biz.

Police, firemen, doctors, mechanics, lawyers, and others think of a lot of things the rest of us don’t because they know their business and are rather expected to see and understand things about it that would never occur to the rest of us. If a doctor tells us we have a peanut allergy, for example, we don’t blurt out, “How in the hell did you think of that?” When s/he thinks of that, we’re getting what we hoped to get when we went to the clinic: answers we didn’t know or only suspected.

A writer’s daily conversations, however, are usually not held in his/her office where, perhaps, somebody might come, asking for help writing a business letter, a speech, or a college admissions essay. If they had done that, they would have expected some writing help and probably wouldn’t have acted surprised to get it.

But out in public is where people are surprised when we say what we say because they’re not used to seeing a writer out in the wild. I find such reactions amusing because I’m just talking like I talk. It’s not as though I’m doing something overt like speaking in Limericks or Faulkner-length sentences.

Many of the writers I know also say they get a lot of surprised reactions from others during normal conversations. At least, they seem normal to the writer until the other person bursts out laughing and says, “How do you think of stuff like that?”

Yes, it’s often amusing, but it’s also tiring because their reactions to what we say really can derail a great conversation.  Perhaps playing nicely with others means we should stop being ourselves.


Malcolm R. Campbell is the author of the recently released “Fate’s Arrows” in which a young woman fights the Klan in her small north Florida town of the 1950s.