I love postcards. In a tight space, they convey an entire world — scene, character, story. They engage the imagination with brevity and spunk. They make us curious, offering up a slice of life, begging the invention of remainders.
Great writers do the same. If you are familiar with Julia Munroe Martin, you’ll know exactly what I mean. Writing from the coast of Maine, Julia is a master of the literary postcard. Sometimes, she might write about arugula. Or her hairdresser. Or the GPS. She can tell you about crows or the lure of social media. In The Police Beat, she tries to apprehend an apple-blossom thief without landing in the local paper. In The Mystery of the Blue Bags, Julia’s curiosity leads her husband to the trash bin. In Pancakes with Pete, her eavesdropping habit makes a humor feast of blueberries and oatmeal.
Julia’s curiosity, her love of language, and her inventive approach to any situation always lift me up. I’m extremely honored to have her as a guest today.
How Will I Write It?, by Julia Munroe Martin
For as long as I can remember my inspiration for writing has come from my everyday life. As a child and teen I traveled with my family to remote places in the world where I felt isolated and alone. I wrote in a journal and letters to friends back home. These became lifelines, and when something happened, my first thought was: “how will I write it”?
I wrote about the things I saw—so when I lived in Kenya I wrote about taking a boat trip down the Nile River: the elephants, the hippos, and the crocodiles. When we lived in Nairobi I wrote about the folktales I heard and the bush babies that played at night in the trees outside our house. I was homeschooled when we traveled, and when I studied history, I’d write stories just for fun, just for me—about a nurse in the Civil War, another about a young girl who traveled across the country in a covered wagon. Perhaps not surprisingly, since I traveled so much, my stories were often inspired by travel through space or through time.
As I got older, when I went off to college, I studied science—certain I wanted to be a doctor. But time after time, I found myself returning to writing, when research made me curious, fascinated with how something worked or why something happened. Wondering again how I would write about it. My ornithology field notebook became a place to write long explorations of bird life and appearance. Roommates and boyfriend problems became short character studies. An internship in a law office made me think about how I’d write about a man accused of giving illegal acupuncture treatments.
While I studied biology I took courses in American Literature and Shakespeare. I imagined a world that revolved around words and thoughts. I also continued to dabble in creative writing: I wrote poetry and sarcastic blues-y song lyrics to amuse and entertain my friends. I was inspired by late nights and starry skies, by conversations with strangers about what made them tick.
I stopped studying pre-med and instead studied journalism, and I became a pro at asking questions and getting information. Interviews inspired me then—as they do now—I can’t leave any stone unturned, even if I’m just satisfying my own curiosity. And then I’d write, breaking complex information into easier to understand pieces. The question, when I faced complex terms was “how will I write this?” The question I love to answer, the answer I love to find.
My first “real job” was as a technical writer for Hewlett Packard. I wrote user manuals for computer networking products. My “how will I write it” became stretched to unnatural limits. Often the answer I came up with was “I don’t know.” Sometimes “I don’t care.”
The examples in my user guides started to look more like fiction; I made up names and office scenarios. More and more, I found myself writing fiction—even at work—inspired by the desire to escape my cube. So I wrote about a guy doomed to build boxes. Another story about a woman who discovers a conspiracy in a computer company. When I lived in Colorado, where we hiked a lot, I started a mystery about a woman who finds a cache of gold hidden in a cave during a hundred-year-ago botched railroad robbery. I also started to write about a woman who time traveled through an old burned out tree in the prairie.
“How will I write it” is my everyday companion. When we renovated our house and found random things within the old walls, I wrote a story about a woman who found an old letter in the walls of her house—that led to a man—that led to love. It was my first published short story. When my children were young, I wrote stories they could read: early readers then young readers then middle grade readers. My endless questions fueling my curiosity, my curiosity sparked more questions, and then of course the “how will I write it.”
New ideas bombard me daily. A month ago, on a drive to look at fall foliage, I thought of an idea for a brand new WIP. A brilliant fall day, a memory of a walk down a path with my daughter, a famous author—these things formed a spark. I don’t know why or how the idea coalesced in my mind—but my first thought after I had it was “how will I write it”?
Sometimes these ideas go nowhere at all, and sometimes they’re downright annoying—in the middle of working on one WIP for example, it can be frustrating to be distracted by a shiny new object. I’ve learned to put blinders on, to pay heed to inspiration, while at the same time regulating the floodgates and managing the flow. I plan, I plot, I write, I revise.
Just like when I was a child, time after time, I find inspiration in my everyday life—helping me make sense of everything from the mundane to the heartbreaking. And as I do, the question I come back to again and again is: “how will I write it”?
Thank you Julia, for my daily dose of curiosity and inspiration!
Julia Munroe Martin lives in an old house on the coast of Maine. But she was born in France and has also lived in Massachusetts, California, Colorado, Belize, Kenya, and Uganda (with brief stints in Minnesota, Ohio, and New York)–all places that inspire her fiction and creative non-fiction. Julia is a novelist-in-progress; she blogs at wordsxo.com about writing and the writing life; on Twitter she’s @wordsxo, named a “Top Twitter Feed to Watch” by The Writer magazine (July 2012).
Okay, your turn. What’s your latest adventure and “how will you write it”?