Mining Experience for Story Ideas

At five, I already loved reading and the written word. I recall making the decision to become a writer while walking atop a stack of books I’d made into a “fort.” “When I grow up, I’m gonna be a writer,” I said, and let that intention direct the rest of my life.


Becoming a writer happened many (I’m not telling how many) years after the life-defining decision made as a five-year-old. Though not obvious to me at the time, life experiences were preparing me to assume the role of writer. Or was I subconsciously choosing the experiences I would need in the future? You be the judge.


When other responsibilities lessened, I was able to change my life style to support becoming a writer. I returned to school and took language and speech courses. To support myself, I worked in a part-time sales job paying more per hour and requiring fewer hours than many other jobs.  My plan was to earn a degree in English and then look for a job as a writer.


Between semesters, I took a temporary job in the Chicago Loop. While traveling home on the commuter train, I had a conversation with a woman who knew a woman who wanted to leave her job as a magazine editor and was looking for a replacement. After several phone conversations, the appointment was made. We met the publisher in his building at South 16th and State Streets in Chicago. It was one scary neighborhood.


The location was the least of the problems. Phil, the publisher, informed me that the magazine was going belly-up and with his current editor finding another job, he thought this a good time to bail out. I wasn’t giving up that easily. We chatted. I mentioned my successful sales experience.


He grew attentive. “Will you sell advertising in addition to editing the magazine?”


“Yes.” I replied.


We shook hands on a one-month trial period. I worked 60-hour weeks selling advertising, writing two columns and assorted features, and editing. The first month we broke even. the second month we made a profit. I stayed two years, and never returned to school. When I last checked, about five years ago, Transport Fleet News was still viable. 


I broke into writing because I had the right experience at the right time for the position.


Writing around life experiences enriches the story, cuts down on research time, and encourages the suspension of disbelief by the reader.


My first romance, Love’s Reflection, is the story of a love-besotted scientist who creates a robot in the exact image of his unrequited love interest, a film superstar. The inspiration for the story came from a training program I wrote for a Fortune 50 corporation, “Introduction to Programming Robots.” The robot in my story is a hot, red-head with legs up to…. The robot who inspired her creation is an 18-in. tall, one-armed, headless machine. The lone arm seemed little better than useless to me. It moved in slow and jerky increments. When I learned the mathematical equation that turned the robotic movement into a smooth motion, I knew I had to write the story of the highest evolution of that sorry-looking machine.


My second romance, Eternally His, will be released in February 2009. It tells the story of a Ghost dressed in a Victorian bridal gown who is haunting a bridal salon. It also is a product of a life experience. I worked part-time as a bridal consultant when I returned to school to study language and speech. 


Writing about difficult life experiences can help relieve angst and anger. It worked for me. A lawyer ripped me off. I realized it was futile to fight the lawyer on his own turf–the courtroom, so I wrote a story in which I achieved revenge. It was purchased by the first literary magazine to which I offered it. I got rid of my anger and made a sale.  The story, “Of One Stem,” can be downloaded free at


All experiences are valuable. Sometimes the difficult ones are there to “kick” you into another place in life. J.K. Rowling was a destitute, single mother until she wrote the first book in the Harry Potter series. Today she is a billionaire.


What are your experiences? How can you turn them into publishable stories? 

Note: This post originally appeared in during August 2008 when I was a guest blogger.


1 Response to “Mining Experience for Story Ideas”

  1. 1 December 13, 2013 at 12:10 PM

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