The Outer Circle

Last week I talked on the phone with a good friend who’s an excellent writer. She brought up something that we’ve often talked about – the importance of thinking.

Fresh, interesting ideas are probably the most important requirement for effective writing. But how do you find them?

Something relevant popped up while she and I were talking about our favorite shows.

Mine are Doc Martin (PBS) and (I’ll give you a moment to roll your eyes for this one) Sister Wives (TLC) – a reality show about a man with four wives. (I know it’s an odd choice!) I really enjoy sharing the roller-coaster ride of their four marriages rolled into one.

As I said, my writer friend and I were talking about TV…and then an idea hit. First, though, I’m going to backpedal for a moment. If you asked me what was wrong with Doc Martin’s marriage, I could tell you in a second: he was emotionally damaged by a troubled childhood.

And if you asked me what was wrong with Meri Brown’s marriage (she’s Wife #1 in Sister Wives), I’d tell you that it’s the stress from sharing your husband with three other women.

Recently both Doc Martin and Meri Brown from Sister Wives went into therapy. Both marriage counselors told both couples that one of their biggest problems is control issues. All four spouses (Martin and his wife Louisa, and Meri and her husband Kody) think they need to be in control – all the time.

I’m fascinated. I didn’t see that coming! And it started me thinking about my own marriage. Do Charlie and I have control issues? I thought about my parents, and friends, and other family members. Have I ever spotted control issues with them?

How do you even know if you have control issues? It’s something I haven’t thought much about.

Back to writing. When something startles you, and it challenges you to think in new ways, you’ve been given a gift. That’s were good (and sometimes great) writing comes from.

Most good writers I know keep journals where they write down new ideas that come out of the blue. Not all of them will be useful. But even an off-the-wall idea might stimulate another idea that turns out to be solid gold.

The trick is to learn how to watch yourself thinking (crazy as that sounds). What is my brain doing now? Is it lazy? Spinning around in the same old loop? Nothing wrong with that! We all do it.

But if you aspire to be a writer, there should be plenty of moments when you’re chasing down an idea that hit you for the first time. Write it down, go back to it several times, and see where it takes you. You may be surprised – and you may come up with a terrific piece of writing.

The cast of the Sister Wives TV reality show

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