Writing Ideas: So, Where Do I Begin?

Today’s blog post began with me staring at a cursor and a blank page with an empty mind. Eventually, my brain got the message. “She’s serious. She’s going to make me do this.” And then it started helping me out with ideas. That’s how it works. Every time. Writing means sitting down in front of a computer and exercising your brain in ways that life rarely requires. Your brain wants to scroll your Twitter feed. Maybe read a good story. It wants to consume. What it doesn’t want to do is organize and synthesize ideas.

The truth is that I have lots of ideas. The problem is getting them out of my head and sharing them with the world, when my brain insists that there are so many more urgent matters. There are dishes to be done. Lists to make. Laundry. It’s tempting to simply keep all those thoughts to myself and meditate on them in privacy. I recently read about this phenomenon in an email newsletter by a writing coach who calls it “hoarding”. I’m not a hoarder in real life, but I often hoard all my ideas for future writing projects that never materialize. Anyone who has ever watched the show Hoarders knows how that turns out. Hoards lead to rot and decay.

I started this blog with a 21 Day Writing Challenge. There was a prompt for every day of the challenge. Some of my best content came out of that exercise, and it makes me wonder if I should attempt daily posts again. I’ve been thinking about how to blog more frequently, but one of my biggest challenges is coming up with ideas. By committing to writing more often, with or without a prompt, I may be able to prove to myself that the ideas will come, even when it seems like I don’t know where to begin.

If I were a blog reader, I’d want regular, frequent (even daily) content. Not lengthy researched articles, just a quick peek into the ever-evolving thoughts of another human. Their missteps. Their backtracks. Their tentative mental wanderings. Hopefully, a poem or some short fiction. The occasional glimpse into their personal lives. There’s an element of certainty and consistency but also surprise.

Can Old School Blogging Save My Writer’s Soul?

One of my all-time favorite songs is Video Killed the Radio Star by The Buggles. Ironically, video also killed the blog, as did every other social media platform.

I began my very first blog before social media as we know it today existed, and this is my fourth personal blog. There was a time when I used to post every day. Now I struggle to post once a month.

It seems like I’ve been forever trying to figure out how to write more. Of course I want to write better. But doesn’t writing more mean writing better? So why haven’t I been writing as much as I’d like to? The truth is I lost the feeling of joy at the thought of publishing a post to my blog a long time ago–circa 2009 to be precise.

Do you remember when blogs were interesting? Before branding and niches? When bloggers weren’t quite so…impersonal? So voiceless and polished? When posts weren’t SEO-driven, marketable (God I hate that word), and utilitarian? In those days, the blog was a humble and eclectic and sometimes messy but delightfully authentic treat to read. And to write.

Today’s blog is superficial. Unoriginal. The internet has been flooded with money-making blogs for the past decade. Blogs that are so full of ads and promotions, pop-ups and marketing (there’s that word again), that you can hardly find the content you were searching for.

The blog’s transformation from its organic, wholesome, democratic roots to a vapid capitalist enterprise was swift and tragic. It’s been quite the revelation to me that my writer’s soul has been one of its casualties. I had become plagued with perfectionism, preoccupied with keeping up with trends, and afraid of putting anything in writing that might not measure up to the standards of the marketplace.

It wasn’t that I no longer wanted to write, it was that I no longer wanted to write like that.

I don’t care how many words the experts say the ideal blog post should have. Or whether I have found the perfect Google-searched click-bait title. The one rule I am keeping is: the advantage of consistency for the content creator. No one wants to read a blog that posts inconsistently. I know I don’t.

My primary writing goal in 2021 is going to be to show up and write here as often as I can. No one has revelations like this every day, but there is something in the everyday and the ordinary worth sharing. My inner blog guru will try to make me feel small and unimportant, but the old school blogger in me says, “Write on!”

The old school blog is needed today, and I have a hunch I’m not the only one who misses it.

Getting Acquainted with Magical Realism

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Photo on Visualhunt

I first came across the term magical realism a few years ago when I was looking for the genre that would best describe a work of short fiction I had begun.

My story was set in the real world. It was realistic in its depiction of events. There were no overtly supernatural or fantasy elements. But there was a mood and an atmosphere that could only be described as uncanny. There were characters who seemed to suggest the mysterious in subtle and curious ways. There were events which I planned to include in future scenes that would be read as miraculous or magical, even though the characters within the story would perceive them as ordinary and entirely acceptable.

This was the kind of storytelling that my soul wanted to tell, and now I had a name for it.

Up to that point, I had written mostly poetry, and this story had a lyrical quality to it as well. So when I read through the many attempts to define magical realism, I was amused to come across one that described it as “a poetic denial of reality” (Arturo Uslar-Pietri).

You may come across several definitions of the genre. It can be tricky to definitively describe it. No one definition is all-encompassing. Alberto Alvaro Rios has put together a good online resource for this genre with a collection of working definitions by scholars and authors.

I’m coming from the point of view of a writer, so one of the definitions I find most useful is from A Dictionary of Literary Terms and Literary Theory:

[In magical realism we find] bizarre and skillful time shifts, convoluted and even labyrinthine narratives and plots, miscellaneous uses of dreams, myths and fairy stories, expressionistic and even surrealistic description, arcane erudition, the elements of surprise or abrupt shock, the horrific and the inexplicable.

Another description which intrigues me is:

[Magical realism is] an implicit criticism of society, particularly the elite.” (from Twentieth-Century Spanish American Literature)

Facts About Magical Realism:

  1. A variation of the term was first used in 1925 in reference to German art.
  2. In 1955, critic Angel Flores used the term in an essay, sparking interest in literature which portrayed magical elements in a realistic way.
  3. Latin America is considered the origin of magical realism, but many non-Hispanic authors categorize their work as magical realism. It has been adapted to fit many cultures and is now an international genre.

Characteristics of Magical Realism:

  • Real world setting, ordinary characters
  • Magical elements can involve time, place, events, or characters, as long as the work maintains realism.
  • The writing style is typically literary.
  • A theme of fate, without too much emphasis on elaborate prophecies or chosen ones or other fantasy elements
  • Meaning (can be spiritual)
  • Subtlety
  • Magical elements are described in a matter-of-fact way.
  • Myths and folktales from a particular culture are often incorporated.
  • Political/social themes or criticism are common.
  • Ambiguity: The reader wonders whether the magical elements are real or not. Are they just psychological? Are they metaphors?
  • The journey of the hero or heroine is often passive–waiting, wandering, wondering. A mystery initiates the journey. It usually hints at a void in their life. It’s not always resolved.