Hey, I Can Use That!

Something has changed around my house as my writing progresses.  I, as well as other family members, have become extremely aware of happenings going on around us.  My initial question of whether or not I would have support at home, something I feel is crucial for any writer, has been answered by not only being allowed uninterrupted writing time, but everyone chiming in with suggestions and ideas I can use in my present work in progress. These suggestions are derived from everyday events and encounters.  Some of them have been quite clever and as a family, we run with it.  Our creative brainstorm sessions usually end with my wife or sons saying “hey, you can use that, make sure and write it down so you don’t forget.”  With that, my notebook continues to fill up with ideas, ramblings, and other odd entries that would only make sense to someone living in my house.

Write what you know. Yes we’ve heard this quote and it has been dissected a thousand times by writers of all levels. I have my own take on it and I imagine most of you do too.  To me writing what you know leads to writing what you don’t know. We don’t know everything but have the ability to take what we do know, use it, and venture off into what we don’t know through either creative thought process or research.  An author writing about a futuristic society is certainly not writing about something he or she has experienced firsthand, yet much of what they are writing about is built off what they do know or have experienced, along with what they don’t know but had the creative mindset to envision. For example, most of us have experienced a power outage. We could write about that as something we know.  What if the power failed to come back on? What if that power outage was a huge grid failure and power was now going to be off indefinitely? We don’t know what that is like, but we can imagine how it would make us feel, what fears we might have, what adjustments we would have to make, and now we have something to write about. Writing what we know or don’t know?

What I know. I know that there are experiences and encounters I can draw from and use in my writing, some very real and some imagined or requiring further exploration and/or research and some, now at the urging of family members who have an uncanny ability to ask “what if,” are drawn from tangents we venture off on.  Maybe a customer at the local gas station convenience store acts or says something out of the ordinary and has a menacing look about him. By the time we get back in our car, he has become a serial killer or wanted fugitive hiding out in a small town.  Yet there are those life experiences we have that are so odd and unbelievable that they stand alone, not needing any further exploration or creative process but still worthy material that must be filed away even if it is only something used in a short scene.

We have a cat. Well actually we have a few cats and dogs. We had put off fixing the young male cat, a beautiful, evil-looking creature named Choo that my oldest son named after a rapper he listens to, out of laziness on our part.  For some time I felt Choo was purposely doing things to piss us off because his male hormones were running rampant. He would climb up on the dresser; stare at himself in the mirror while growling, then turn and look at us as he proceeded to knock things off (cups, jewelry box, pictures, etc.).  I would get up, move towards the dresser and he would immediately jump down and run. This would continue multiple times throughout the evening as we were winding down and each time, Choo wins and I would vow to make an appointment to get him fixed.  I remember joking one time that he wasn’t purposely trying to make us mad; he was just tired of listening to the entire “you can use that” dialogue taking place earlier and was simply vying for a role in my novel.

One evening I was sitting in my bedroom recliner writing while my wife was reading in bed. Choo came into the room but instead of jumping up onto the dresser, he jumped up onto the bed, stood on my pillow, started the little pitter-patter cats do with their front paws, all while staring at my wife in what I honestly felt like was a seductive manner.  I wasn’t imagining this; he was alternating between a growl and a purr, his unwavering eyes glued to my wife.  He then proceeded to “hump” my pillow and I jumped up laughing in disbelief and said “Hey, I can use that!”

After a few more evenings of this, we made an appointment for Choo to get fixed and I took him in a few days later.  He even still appeared to like me afterwards. Life is back to normal, and my family and I continue to have fun with our brainstorming sessions.  As for Choo, he still knocks things off the dresser but has stopped his romantic escapades with my pillow.  He has however; found a page in my notebook.  Maybe I will have a very dark scene that needs a bit of humor, or a guy that feels he is competing with his girlfriend’s pet for affection. Regardless, somewhere, someday, somehow, I can use that.


A special congratulation to two Twitter friends of mine for their debut novels released this last week:

Dena Rogers – Drive Me Sane

S.S. Lange – Long Lost: A Charlotte Hayes Novel


  1. denarogers

    Thanks Bill for the mention! Enjoying the blog, keep it up!

  2. emmawicker

    Excellent post, I can honestly say I have never thought this way before. Rarely, if ever, have I taken something out of my day and thought ‘hey, I can use that’. Now I will. I love that your family are so involved with your writing, it’s good to hear. My girls are definitely my biggest supporters although whenever I try to talk it to my husband he threatens to make ‘a paddle of rebuke’ like on the fosters add lol. But just because he doesn’t talk to me about it doesn’t mean he’s not supporting me. I am up all night writing and he only ever moans now and then lol. This morning my youngest quizzed me on my book. Most of the things she asked were ‘but why?’ and she even found it amusing to try and catch me out. I explained to her that she couldn’t because I wrote it but I did like that she kept asking me why and I was able to respond. I guess it shows that everything that happens in my books happen for a reason so she can ask ‘but why’ every day, it makes me think which is always a good thing. By the way, Choo sounds both hilarious and adorable. Given how good you are at humor in your writing I think you can definitely ‘use that’.

    • W.C. Cunningham

      It is amazing to me how many ideas can come from everyday things we experience. Whether it is taking something that actually happened and twisting it a little to fit, or taking an event or situation and running wild with it. Some great material can blossom.

  3. Charli Mills

    It’s fun to come across a like-minded writer! I mine every day occurrences for material. I once went on a research excursion and wore a sticker that forewarned people, “Do not feed the writer. You might end up in my novel.” Your story about Choo is funny and yes, it has potential somewhere! Good to meet you on Twitter and look forward to reading more from you!

    • W.C. Cunningham

      Thanks Charli!

  4. S.S. Lange

    Have you read Bird by Bird? She talks a lot about this concept and I’ve been noticing a lot more myself since reading it. Great post, and thanks for the mention! Your website look great by the way!

    • W.C. Cunningham

      I haven’t read that but will look into it. I’ve found myself running with a few ideas that way and especially in dialogue. You’re welcome on the mention and thanks for the site comment! I’m slowly mastering this.

  5. perfectprosesservices

    Another great post. So glad you used Mondayblogs hashtag this week, as that’s how I saw this week’s post. I, too, use everyday events, instances and happenings as ideas for scenes in novels. I am fortunate that I never run out of ideas, but if I were to, I would head straight down to the nearest café and see what snippets I could garner from conversations. Often you only need to hear one line, or part of a line someone says and off you go with a story. I laughed at Choo the cat’s escapades and it sounds like it’s just as well you got him fixed! Susan

  6. Carrie Lynn Lewis

    Laughing out loud, Bill! And, reading some passages to my husband.

    The events you describe are so true to my writing life I couldn’t believe it. It’s amazing where the imagination can go when starting with something as simple as a dented fender!

    We even have similar cat stories. Our cat’s name is Max, though.


    I guess I’m just not that original after all!

    Thanks for a great post and a humorous look at the writing life.

    • W.C. Cunningham

      Thanks Carrie! I felt the post was fitting for the topic last night on Story Dam. Our cats and dogs provide constant entertainment.

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