Tips for writers – stories are everywhere

Elvis Elvis

I just moved to Gatesville, Texas, near Austin, after living in North Dakota for six years. I enjoyed North Dakota, but I’m a native Tennessean. It’s good to be back in the South.

I’ve spent my past two Saturday nights playing country and bluegrass music with a bunch of my new friends. This is the kind of place where you can pick up a guitar, sit down, and immediately feel great – even if you’ve never played a bluegrass lick in your life. I hadn’t.

I just moved into this community, and the people there already treat me like family. When I went two weeks ago, I didn’t know anyone. This past Saturday night, I could barely get my guitar and amplifier in the door around all the people trying to hug me.

It’s the kind of thing I couldn’t imagine if I hadn’t experienced it – the warmth, fellowship and community. I never had it growing up.

They get twenty or thirty people together, cook enough food for fifty, and then break out the instruments. Last week there were two guys with accoustic guitars, a mandolin player, a banjo player, a guy with an electric bass, and a woman playing autoharp. They all sing (except me, because I haven’t learned how to sing and play G-C-D progressions yet), and they all bring huge songbooks. We played old Hank Williams and George Jones and spirituals and bluegrass and it was just a bunch of fun.

Tips for writers   stories are everywhere

Lesson A: things that genuinely move us, inspire us, provoke emotion, are the things worth writing about. If it doesn’t move you, move on.

I didn’t expect playing bluegrass music to be particularly moving. I love listening to it, but I’m a rock n’ roll guy. I thought it would be either a) very fast and next to impossible to keep up with, or b) boring.

I discovered that there is a huge difference between playing that music and hearing it. I don’t know what it is, but playing songs about grief, loss and shame – about how they’re isn’t enough whiskey in the world to drink that girl off your mind – spreads a huge grin across my face. Maybe it’s the same reason blues music is still so popular.

Lesson B: keep an open mind. Try things you’re not sure you’ll like. You might end up loving them. Even if you don’t, it’s a new experience to write about.

Most of the regulars are in their late 60s or early 70′s and have been pickers their whole lives. One of the guys shipped out of Fort Hood with Elvis when he joined the Army. He also played a show with Bill Haley and the Comets.

A lot of them served in the military, so we all swapped war stories and ate awesome Tex-Mex food and played for about four hours straight. I’m not the youngest guy there, but I’m the only rock player (so far). I’m the “greenhorn,” but they’re already meeting me on home ground, playing electric blues and rockabilly stuff like Eddie Cochran, Buddy Holly and (of course) Elvis tunes. I have a feeling I’m going to be a regular out there.

Lesson C: Do things that make you happy – things besides writing. If writing is the only thing you love, you’re putting all your eggs in one very fragile basket.

You can probably figure out why I spent all this time talking about playing bluegrass music instead of writing. But I’m in favor of the clear statement of a theme, so I’ll throw it out there: stories are everywhere, in everything you experience. Go out of your way to broaden that experience. Travel. Our world is enormous, filled with variety. Do and see everything you can. Then bring it home to your keyboard, and help your reader understand the world through your eyes. That is your mission: to express your unique perspective.

There it is. Now run with it.