Spill It: Do You Unknowingly Waste Your Best Stories?

Tomorrow morning, I’m heading up to Good Commons in Plymouth, VT, for a Revitalize Retreat organized by healthy travel organization Pravassa. I don’t travel (or unplug) often, and I’ve never taken a vacation alone. But I’m looking forward to daily yoga classes, and cooking classes during which we’ll prepare farm fresh meals. I’m looking forward to field trips to nearby sustainable farms. I’m looking forward to soaking in the hot tub, and stuffing my face with s’mores at the fire pit. I’m looking forward to spending quiet hours with my stack of books (Michael Ellsberg’s The Education of Millionaires, Elizabeth George’s I, Richard, and Karen Russell’s St. Lucy’s Home for Girls Raised by Wolves), and to meeting other blissed-out, beginner yogis.

When I told my yoga instructor about the trip, he was all, “Cool! Are you writing about it!?” And then I hemmed and hawed and finally admitted to him that it hadn’t occurred to me.

But this is only half true. Another part of me had thought about it in passing, and had then decided that I wouldn’t be able to come up with a compelling story angle. Or that it would be too much of a long shot to sell a story that wasn’t about sex. And was it worth the effort? Wasn’t I supposed to be having fun? Unplugging?

I do this all the damn time. Not that my life is a non-stop party, but what about that casserole competition I enter every year? What about the traveling potluck I partake in? What about my very first trip to a fertility center, or my very first trip to a biker bar? Aren’t these story-worthy? Am I surrounding myself with wasted opportunities? Or should I feel okay about not mining every aspect of my life for my writing?

I guess I’m allowed to slack sometimes, but I feel as if it happens way too often. And considering how burnt out I can get on sex writing, I should probably branch out into other content areas. So what holds us back from writing about our outside-the-niche experiences, and how can we push back?

1. It doesn’t occur to us to write about that awesome, fantastic, one-of-a-kind experience, because it’s not work-related. 

Our minds should always be open to new story ideas, and this means analyzing every experience and interaction with a writer’s eye. Show interest in others’ stories. And show interest in your own, too. Look through your calendar and ask yourself: What can others gain from this super-cool thing I just experienced?

2. We have trouble coming up with a unique story angle.

So I’m going on a yoga retreat. Big deal. Almost every other writer out there has come to make yoga a big part of their lives, and stories about the transformation they’ve experienced through yoga are a dime a dozen. There are even hybrid yoga/writing retreats! No one cares about my experience!

This kind of mindset is poop. Self-defeating poop. Examine your experience from every angle. What sets this one apart from others of its kind? Is there an interesting back story? Did you learn some counterintuitive lesson? Is there a how-to or Q&A that can grow out of this experience? Get creative. I mean, isn’t that your job?

3. We worry about venturing outside our niche.

This is also poop. Plus, I recently wrote about it! Revisit that post to learn more about starting from scratch in a new niche.

Am  the only one who does this? Or do you regularly use new experiences to break into new niches?

Related: Freelance Dilemma: Brainstorming New Ideas

Need New Material? Try Living Your Life

About two and a half years ago, I blogged about feeling limited by the sex writing niche I’d found myself in. Since then, I’ve been an editor at a web magazine featuring content on love and sex, I’ve had my own sex column, I’ve co-written an ebook with Ian Kerner on spicing up your sex life, I’ve been interviewed as an expert on vibrators, and more. When all is said and done, I suppose the sex writing thing has been good to me.

Still, it’s tough to continue getting mileage out of that first sex party I attended five years ago, or that one time I posed nude for a portraitist. Plus, even sex gets boring!

Which is why, in this month’s edition of Word Nerd News, I urged readers to get the hell out of the house and live a little.

I even gave them some homework:

1. Step away from your laptop at least once a week, and try something new.

2. Develop at least three story ideas based upon that one experience, or that one nifty person you met.

3. Send out those queries, dammit.

4. Land some fabulous assignments.

5. Collect a ton of money and immediately spend it all on books and handbags.

The part about handbags is optional, but I’m dead serious about the rest of it. Which is why I’m giving you the exact same assignment.

And just so you don’t think I’m slacking (I may be wearing PJs and bunny slippers at 1:01 p.m., but I’m definitely not a slacker), I’ll take one of the experiences mentioned in my newsletter and do the assignment, too. Here. Let me start us off.

1. My Experience: I hung out at the Trojan Vibrations Truck to talk vibrators and promote sexual health awareness.

2. My Three, Related Story Ideas:

  • how to use toys to enhance foreplay
  • what else I wish I could buy at my local Stop & Shop (playing off the idea that Trojan wants to display their new line at the supermarket, right next to their condoms, as a means of normalizing discussions about sexual health)
  • required reading for your progressive sex ed curriculum (playing off the latest stories of the new sex ed mandates in NYC)

3. Sending out those queries. Dammit. I’ll have them out by tomorrow. I swear.

Okay. It’s your turn. Feel free to share your stories and brainstorm ideas in the comments section of this post!

And if you’re not yet signed up to receive Word Nerd News, get on that, yo!

Related: Cornering the Market? Or Feeling Cornered?