Friday, March 12, 2010

Graffiti Leads


William Zinsser
is well-known by most of us as a fantastic source of writing knowledge. Here is one of my favorite passages from On Writing Well:


Photo source: (http://thebookman.files.wordpress.com/2009/08/grafitti.jpg)

...look for your material everywhere, not just by reading the obvious sources and interviewing the obvious people. Look at signs and at billboards and at all the junk written along the American roadside. Read the labels on our packages and the instructions on our toys, the claims on our medicines and the graffiti on our walls.

Read the fillers, so rich in self-esteem, that come spilling out of your monthly statement from the electric company and the telephone company and the bank. Read menus and catalogues and second-class mail. Nose about in obscure crannies of the newspaper, like the Sunday real estate section - you can tell the temper of a society by what patio accessories it wants. Our daily landscape is thick with absurd messages and portents. Notice them. They not only have a certain social significance; they are often just quirky enough to make a lead that is different from everybody else's.

Wow. Not only do I love what he says here, but I also love how he says it.

How do you feel about leads?

38 comments:

Patti Lacy said...

LOVE it, Shannon! My third baby (release date next winter) was birthed from the pages of a newspaper article.

Thanks for suggesting another great writing book.

LOVE this blog!!!
www.pattilacy.com/blog

Tamika: said...

Thanks Shannon! Most days I move through life at break neck speed forgetting to devour every moment.

Cleverly Inked said...

Wow, Love it.

laurel said...

"Our daily landscape is thick with absurd messages and portents."

Yes, oh yes. I wish I had a few extra lifetimes to write what I see, and to see more too.

I found part of my climax scene in a Kohl's department store while they were remodeling--a group of objects shoved together in one corner (sorry, no spoilers) gave me such a visceral reaction, I knew it had to go in the book.

roxy said...

So interesting. I've never thought of looking at those sources for writing ideas. Great blog, Shannon. I hope you have a wonderful weekend!

Kimberly Franklin said...

I love this, too! You can get inspiration or leads from the oddest places.

Jennie Englund said...

I can't believe it! You and I are joined at the cyber-hip, Shannon!

I had to seek out Mr Zinsser's wisdom yesterday on my ol' bloggie.

This, though! Quite curious!

Reminds me of a "60 Minutes" segment on an East Coast professor who taught his students to see the invisible arrow in the FedEx logo, or the designs of a manhole cover.

Looking, seeing... GREAT reminders!

Jemi Fraser said...

Love the concept. Being observant is never a bad thing :) It's amazing what you can see when you really look.

Shannon O'Donnell said...

Patti - You are so sweet, Patti! Thanks for sharing your newspaper "find". :)

Tamika - You and me both!

Inked - Yay! :-)

Laurel - That's exactly the kind of thing he insists will happen. Thanks for sharing.

Roxy - Thanks. You have a great weekend too. :)

Kimberly - Yes!

Jennie - It must be our blogger buddy connection. :-)

Jemi - So true!

Jody Hedlund said...

Very interesting! Since I write historicals, I tend to have my eyes open in all of the history books I read for the "leads" there.

Catherine Denton said...

What awesome advice. I tend to overlook some of that. Never thought of it as lead material before.

Carolyn V. said...

I love how he says it too! Wow.

It's true, I love leads. I had a college teacher that told us to make up a story about someone in the obituary. It was very eye opening.

Awesome post Shannon! Thanks.

Robyn Campbell said...

WOW! I love how he says it too. Thanks Shannon. Super awesome post. Living life is observing. If you really live it.

See you after unplug week.

Cleverly Inked said...

I may not be a writer but I do enjoy learning about others..How they make it..The struggles ETC. Your blog is inspiring.

As always I will continue to be your loyal Follower. (so dramatic) Thanks for stopping by!

Tracy said...

This is so true. Yesterday, I got 3 really great ideas triggered by people at the gym. Working out actually does have benefits!

my blog

Nisa said...

Writers are nothing if not observant. What a great post!

Katie Ganshert said...

That IS cool! Steven King wrote a short story once about bathroom grafitti. Made me want to write a lead character who's obsessed with bathroom grafitti.

Shannon O'Donnell said...

Jody - That's why we all emulate you. :-)

Catherine - Yay! You learned something new.

Carolyn - Thanks. The obituary idea is cool.

Robyn - Well said, Robyn!

Liz - You are so great!

Tracy - I guess I should work out more then. ha ha.

Nisa - Thanks bunches. :)

Katie - You gotta love Steven King!

Abby Annis said...

What a great idea! I love reading anything, but I never would have turned to many of those sources for inspiration. Thanks for sharing!

I have something for you on my blog, which I see you've already received. Feel free to do with it as you choose. :)

Mary Aalgaard said...

Cool, permission to observe and eavesdrop, two of my favorite ways to stimulate creativity and gather great dialogue!

Have a great weekend. May the sun shine on your spot of the world!

TerryLynnJohnson said...

Hey, I agree, this is great stuff. MC's with quirks - ie. Need, are fun and keep you reading I think. What a neat way of finding ideas.

sarahjayne smythe said...

I love this post. Such great advice. Thanks for reminding us. :)

Christine Danek said...

Great advice. Inspiration can happen at any moment you have to stop and open your eyes to see :)

Conda V. Douglas said...

I find "leads" everywhere...including great blogs like yours--they get me to thinking!

Shelley Sly said...

I am SO a fan of finding leads wherever I can, even in the littlest things. I've had entire story ideas from one picture or one scribbled note that someone left behind. Excellent post!

Kathi Oram Peterson said...

I never really thought about reading labels and every little thing and how it reflects on society. Cool! Thanks for sharing his insights.

Mary Campbell said...

I'm not sure what I think about that. Read labels and bills? I don't think I really want to do that. Maybe if I was researching something, but otherwise I already have a tbr pile that is huge.

Susan Fields said...

Great reminder - I'm usually too intent on whatever I'm doing to really pay attention. Unless I'm walking the dog, then my mind just takes in everything. Have a great weekend!

Charmaine Clancy said...

I have 'On Writing Well' on audiobook, but I think sometimes you need to see words in print to absorb their importance - which I guess is what he's trying to tell us ;-). Great post.

Jessie Oliveros said...

Shoot-I have to read all that to be a better writer :) Actually, I think that's great advice. Details are what matter in books. And you can't write details if you don't notice details. I can't say where exactly my leads come from, although for the book I'm currently writing it came to me in a Brazilian restauraunt. (There were no menus to read, only one menu item. Lots of meat.) This is a really long comment.

Terresa said...

MMM (licking my lips), this was your tastiest post yet, I think.

I love it and try to remember it at all times.

Writers are collectors, hoarders of ideas, thoughts, sparks of themes, characters, settings. We gather ideas in like a cloak and wear them thick and heavy.

I like being a writer, don't you?

Jenn Johansson said...

Very cool! I'm always on the lookout for new ideas in strange places. :)

Jackee said...

Perfectly written! I love it. Especially, "so rich in self-esteem" and "often just quirky enough to make a lead that is different from everybody else's."

I think us writers are inherently inquisitive enough to read just about everything we see. I know I for one can't even leave a cereal box alone if it's in front of me.

lora96 said...

That excerpt ROCKED! I'll be looking for that book--and, ya know, looking at street signs and chinese food menus for inspiration.

Tangent: Is "menus" not the weirdest looking word?

GunDiva said...

Shannon, I've got an award for you at my blog. Stop by and pick it up.

Rebecca @ Diary of a Virgin Novelist said...

I had totally forgotten about this books! Thanks for reminding me. Going to get it from my shelf...

Nishant said...

I love it and try to remember it at all times.
work at home in india

Julie Dao said...

I love this. What a great reminder to take in the beauty of our world and use the littlest things for inspiration. Thank you for sharing!

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