The submission deadline to an anthology is looming and I want to write an essay for it. I take a seat at my kitchen table, and begin flipping through my journals for inspiration.
"What are you looking for," my husband asks. An innocent enough question.
"An anecdote," I reply.
"An Annie who?" he says, raising his eyebrows and casting a sideways glance at our teenage son. Our son grins and chuckles softly, knowing his dad likes to tease me about writers and their mysterious words and ways. I should have known.
"Not Annie, anec, an-ec-dote," I repeat. "Something I can build on to make a story."
"Uh-huh," he replies, "like a prescription or something?"
"No, not like a prescription. Well . . . kind of like a prescription, insofar as it relieves the dreaded symptoms resulting from staring at a blank page."
He and my son sigh in unison and grab a soda from the fridge. Thankfully, I'm saved-by-the-whistle. They disappear into the living room to watch the game, where they will discuss words and ways they can relate to, like "rebound" and "three second rule," (or is it five seconds? I don't know.)
What is an anecdote?
An anecdote is a short, entertaining account of an incident. Metaphorically speaking: an anecdote is life. Life that contains laughter and tears, and most importantly, an anecdote is a moment in life worth remembering.
When someone says, "I had a really great day," it doesn't mean everything about the day was really great. But a few moments were. A great moment makes an entire day fun. A few shining moments over a period of months can prompt us to say, "this is a great year" even though we've encountered losses, sadness, anger and all kinds of other unpleasant circumstances.
A way to identify a good anecdote is to pay attention to another person's reaction when you are telling them a story. For example, a few months ago I posted a little story on my mom's group list about a very frustrating but humorous moment I had with my toddler. My e-mail inbox filled up quickly with responses from other moms in the group who could relate to my saga and enjoyed the description of the incident.
"Aha," I thought, "that writes."
That evening, I sat down at my computer. I copied the message I posted, added an introduction, a little more background, a couple more related anecdotes and a conclusion. Then I e-mailed it to the editor of an anthology. Less than twenty-four hours later, I received an e-mail response.
At first I was a little worried. I thought a response that speedy could only mean I forgot to attach the manuscript. Or maybe she did receive it, and was promptly rejecting it.
I clicked on the e-mail and was happy to discover I received an acceptance. It's the first and last time I've received such a quick response, but if I hadn't been perceptive about how enjoyable the little anecdote was, I would have forgotten the incident completely and lost the story.
Keeping a personal journal is also a very effective way to capture your anecdotes until you can get back to them. Find a journal that is small enough to carry in your purse or pocket, and take it with you everywhere.
Record every interesting thing you hear, church sermons, funny things people say, lyrics to songs on the radio. Pretty soon, it will become second nature, and people will begin to peer at you curiously and say, "um, what are you writing in that little book?" They're worried you're taking notes about them, of course.
Journals are the writer's cookbook. We store our delicious morsels of words in them until it's time to write something nourishing. We may have lots of ideas, but if we don't record them, they are soon forgotten. Don't allow your writing to suffer from malnutrition. Take notes about your life!
May God bless you with the right anecdote to cure your blank page. And enough journals to keep you well fed. Happy writing.