One of the most often asked questions of writers is the famed, "Where do you get your ideas from?"
People ask me this almost immediately when I tell them that I write a weekly newspaper column. Generally, I will shrug my shoulders and smile an enigmatic, mysterious, writerly smile. "Oh, you know ... ," I'll say. I say this not to be vague, but because I'm hoping they DO know, because I certainly do not. When my deadline rolls around, I'm generally sitting in front of my computer with clammy hands, typing and deleting and eating another chocolate bar and typing again. This is the point at which I frantically call everyone that I know.
"What should I write about?" I'll ask. And people are full of ideas, if not generally good ones. Although who am I to talk? The writers' conceit is that we assume we know what you all want to read about -- that is, exactly what we want to write about. So, in the name of fairness and equality, of democracy and free speech, I'll give you a sampling of ideas that I've dismissed in the past as boring, not engaging, or merely ridiculous. Worthy of an entire column? You decide.
My friend Nima always, ALWAYS thinks I should write about politics.
"You have a platform to change the opinions of the masses!" he'll say, making sweeping gestures with his hands as if he's addressing the entire Democratic Party on CNN and not one overworked college student.
"Should I really be trying to change the opinions of the masses when I know next to nothing about politics myself?" I ask. This is a fair point, I figure, because my political knowledge extends pretty much to what Nima tells me. Nima will then see my admission of ignorance as an invitation to educate me, and launch into a three-hour diatribe about Obama's platform or Hillary's latest speech or Huckabee's hair.
I've stopped asking Nima for column ideas.
My little sister is far more simplistic in her approach. "You should write about me," she says.
"What about you?" I ask. "What about you is interesting enough that the world wants to read about it?" I'll receive a withering look in response, an underscore of the stupid question that I apparently have asked.
"What about me ISN'T interesting?" She'll toss her hair, annoyed. "Really, Liz."
My dad is probably my biggest fan, my biggest worrier and my biggest well of ideas. He'll call me a few hours before my deadline and ask, in a tension-ridden tone, "Did you write your column yet? Did you? Did you?"
"Not yet," I'll sigh. "Working on it. Any ideas?"
"Well, I was at the grocery store today and a woman was talking on her cell phone while she was paying and it really annoyed me. Is there a column in that?"
"Cell phone etiquette?" I'll ask. "Is that a story?"
"Yeah ... or maybe something about grocery stores?"
"Or what about tennis? Or the weather? Or how all those teenage girls are wearing clothing that's far too small for them?"
"Thanks, Dad," I'll say. "I have to work now."
So this is my process, and more than that, my plea.
Cell phone etiquette?
My little sister's many amazing attributes?
Mike Huckabee's hair?
What do YOU think I should write about?
Liz Moody, a Johansen High School graduate, is a student at the University of California at
Berkeley. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.