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Don’t Be a Mushroom: Engage With the World!

Commercially, mushrooms are grown in the dark in controlled environments. It works well for these tasty, not to mention healthy, fungi, but for a writer living in darkness or without an inquisitive mind, the writing remains flat and lifeless.

Being curious about the world around you will fuel your writing, and you’ll never run out of topics to write about. Asking questions is one of the most important tools a writer has.

Both nonfiction and fiction writers need to ask questions. Nonfiction writers, whether writing profiles or memoirs, have almost an inexhaustive list questions to ask about a given situation. Fiction has its own demand for questions. These revolve around the story being told: who are the characters, what caused this situation to happen, why is it important to the story, and the mostly commonly asked question, What if?

As a writer, it is important to pursue answers for nonfiction and fictional situations to fully flesh out a story.

Several years ago while I was still working for a daily newspaper, I was the editor on duty one night when an intern emailed me a previously assigned story about that year’s Memorial Day program. The story’s lede (opening sentence) was about balloons and flags and patriotic music – the usual fare for a celebration program for veterans.

The fourth paragraph stopped me in my tracks.

As a writer, it is important to pursue answers for nonfiction and fictional situations to fully flesh out a story.

It had a mere mention of a World War II Pearl Harbor survivor who was the main speaker. Nothing else. This is what is known, in journalism circles, as burying the lede. I went into panic mode because this was the lead story on the front page for the next day, and it was totally unacceptable.

I was able to get some information about the veteran from the event’s program and rewrote the lede, adding more details to the story as well.

The writer either didn’t understand the importance of Pearl Harbor (probably) or didn’t ask enough questions (definitely). The story could have been a great piece about this man’s experiences but instead fell flat. Not only was he a Pearl Harbor survivor but also a survivor of the Battle of Midway.

I’ve wanted to meet him ever since. Even at that time, there were very few Pearl Harbor survivors still alive, and we had someone living right here. After that, the veteran would cross my mind from time to time, and I wanted to contact him, but life kept me busy. I finally had my chance to meet him this past Saturday, and it was truly an honor.

The lesson in this story is not about burying the lede. That’s mainly for journalists; although, all writers should start with something more interesting than generic balloons or flags.

The lessons here are to learn to ask questions and be curious about the world even if it’s not something you’re normally interested in. You never know when the information will come in handy for a future project.

Durward Swanson has lived a long life at 95, and I hope he’s around for quite a while longer, but it’s a shame to lose stories because we wait to get them down. Fortunately, he’s been proactive about sharing his story and has written two books.

Look around you: stories abound. Once you start paying attention to these opportunities, you’ll never be faced with writer’s block again. You can always ask one more question.

Millard is a writer and a project development editor. If you’d like to see how she can help you, email her at bonny dot millard AT gmail dot com and ask for a complimentary Project Discovery Call to learn more.

#Mushrooms #AskQuestions #WritersBlock

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