Monday, August 11, 2014

How I come up with this stuff ~ My Column from Sunday's Paper

People often ask how I come up with column ideas. Back in 2007, it was easy. A zillion ideas floated around in my head like yellow jackets on an apple core in summer, but I've written, tossed or forgotten all those.

These days my ideas tend to evolve, and if I were paid for all the time I spend writing each one, I’d be a wealthy man.

Monday is set aside for the first draft. I let the words stew for a day or two, which allows the verbs, nouns, pronouns and adjectives a little time to blend like homemade vegetable soup.

This morning I took my coffee out to the screen porch to finish the second draft. A cool front moved through overnight making it so chilly I had to step back inside and flip off the ceiling fan. Settling in, I noticed steam from my coffee drifted up like incense smoke.

Often when I edit the second draft, I find words and phrases that chafe like a cheap leisure suit.  These are the first to get the ax.

After the first draft, the writer’s knife comes out to whittle the fat, tired and lonely words. Ideally, what’s left is a piece that’s strong and lean.

When I’m completely satisfied, my first editor (Jilda) takes a look. She often points out faux pas so goofy they make me snort coffee out my nose. It’s hard editing your own work.

Writing is tricky business. You have to find what process works and stick with it. My process involves tapping keys, listening to birds and swilling coffee as thick as roofing tar.

Some people believe that writing is a gift. When I read the words of Rick Bragg, or my friend Dale Short, it’s easy for me to believe that too.

But I think either of these writers would tell you that writing involves a lot of factors, none of which come in a box wrapped in fancy paper that’s given to you at birth.

Dale told me that it’s vital to read great writers. He also said studying the craft is vital, and whenever possible, weave emotion into the words so they wrap around the reader like a warm blanket in autumn.

Daily practice is essential. I took Dale’s advice, and in looking at my writing style through the years, I can tell it has improved since I began in 2007, though some of you might disagree.

Writing is rewarding work but it can be lonely. I’m a social person who loves spending time with friends, eating, sharing and laughing. During the hours spent writing, I’m alone with my thoughts.

But writing is the path I chose, and I love what I do. I have no regrets, although as I daydreamed about the writing life through the years, I always imagined it would be more lucrative.

Jerry Ryan of the iconic Birmingham band Three on a String nailed it when he said: “We didn’t get into music to make a lot of money, and so far it’s worked out real good.”

I could say the same about writing.


  1. I admire writers who can churn novels like J.K. Rowling and Stephen King and Depak Chopra and make a lot of money but I also admire writers who can make a living at writing books even though they are not making as much money but still stick with it. If you love what you do and can capture an audience to make a living, then you're successful.

    I prefer to work with my hands and put my heart into it because that's what I love to do.
    Hope ideas comes to you like bees to nectar.

  2. Love is a great motivator. Whether it's in a relationship or a job! If you want to leave this world with a smile on your face, it can never be about the money. I think I'll be leaving with a huge grin! I know you'll be grinning too because I can tell how much you love your life, your wife, your extended family and friends and your writing. That's what I call "priceless"!

    1. You are too kind Yaya. Thank you.

  3. I like your process.

    I enjoy finding ideas that I like as the day rolls along. My time is in the evenings or during rain as today here in the Poconos. Today was supposed to be a tourist day.

    It seems your process works, I always enjoy the blog and the articles when you include them.

  4. Rick, you are doing what you love and that alone sometimes has to be enough! I always thought I would be a speaker and the reality is I speak in my home and heart and on my blog! I love the way you write...
    Blessings to you and your lovely! Roxy

  5. I enjoyed your description of your process. Thank God for Jilda.


  6. Sometimes I get asked by family members if I ever have trouble thinking of something to blog about the answer is no I don't things just come to me

  7. Thank you for letting us into the process(es) that you go through as you write and edit your work. Kudos to your Jilda for the fine word that she does 'refining' your work.
    I agree with Dale. Reading great writers would be a "must" in my opinion.
    However, no amount of reading the works of the masters would make me a great writer. I'm just not one. I know it, and I'm OK with that. I love to read great writing, though. And I am always impressed with the emotions and the ultimate peace that I feel as I am reading great work(s.) Such a be able to write. Thank you for your gift, and continued success to you.
    Sending you warm smiles from South Georgia.

    1. " she does"....not "word she does".
      See. I need an editor!

    2. :) welcome to my world.

  8. I enjoy your writing so much!


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