What’s This Word Doing in My Head and How’d Russell Crowe Get in My Bedroom?

I was battling my nightly insomnia (the kind where I fall asleep fast enough but wake up around 1:00 a.m. and stare at the ceiling for a couple of hours) and a word popped into my head. Honk. That’s it. Just “honk”.

I have no idea what I’m supposed to do with that, but it won’t go away. I wrote the word down on an index card and placed it in my trusty purple box. If there’s a story attached to it, I don’t want to forget the word. I mean, a word of that magnitude…

I have other words and lines that have been kicking around in my head or hibernating in the purple box for years. One line in particular has been there since about 1987. No kidding. It’s a great line. Full of promise. But I can’t settle on a story to put it in. You wouldn’t believe the variations in the notes I have on that one line.

Then there’s the time Russell Crowe sauntered in and planted a weird story idea about kangaroos. I had watched 3:10 to Yuma that day (GREAT movie, by the way), and was thinking about it in the midst of my insomnia. My mind wandered to the fact that Russell Crowe owns a cattle ranch in Australia. Thinking about Australia reminded me of a documentary I had seen about the trouble people are having with kangaroos in the midst of urban sprawl. Thinking about that made me wonder if ranchers ever have trouble with kangaroos getting onto their grazing land. Reality pretty much took a back seat at that point (as it should with a good picture book) and the rather silly story of a cattle rancher’s battle with an angry kangaroo was born. I’ve never shown that story to anyone. I’m still not sure if it’s ready; but I love that particular story because of the convoluted way it came into being.

When I finally decided to get serious and start writing about five years ago, I had a lot of trouble with story ideas. I felt like everything had been done to death. It was a tremendous breakthrough for me to just let my imagination fly and start to see story possibilities all around me. Now, the trouble is I sometimes have too much of a good thing. Which thread should I pull today? In a sense, I guess that’s like complaining about having too much money, which is silly.

I finally broke through the barrier of no story ideas when I learned to ask what if? at every turn. It’s a great place to start. And hey, maybe Russell Crowe will show up and lend a hand. You never know.

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