Tonight I am headed off to the Heart of the West Writer's Conference in Park City, Utah. (Wait... What? Isn't that a romance writers' conference, Peggy? I thought you didn't write kissy scenes! Yes, yes it is. And you're right-- I don't. Just one of the many reasons why I should go.) Anyone else going?
When my little brother turned six, my grandma gave him a present. All kinds of excited, he opened it right in front of her to find a gift set of soap and talcum powder, with a cowboys and Indians scene playing around the bottle.
My brother looked at it with a what-the-Sam-Hill-do-you-use-talcum-powder-for? look on his face. I knew the look, because I wore it myself. (Actually, typing this, I'm still wearing that look. What IS talcum powder for?) Judging by the look on my brother's face when he smelled it, it was pretty heavily scented, too. Which was funny, since it was for boys.... Maybe it was anti-boy smell.
To my brother's and my mom's credit, he still managed to be gracious to my grandma, then shoved it into a drawer after she left.
A few months later, we were playing outside with neighbor kids and found an abandoned bird egg on the ground. Some of the boys decided that they better open the egg. You know-- in case there was still a baby bird inside that needed to get out.
Instead, it contained THE FOULEST SMELL I have smelled in my entire life. To date. And it spread fast. As everyone pulled their shirts over their noses amid choking and gagging, I saw inspiration light up my brother's face. He ran away, and returned a couple minutes later with the carton of talcum powder in his hand and a look of victory on his face. He had finally figured out what it was for!
Writing is all about solving problems. From ones dealing with sentence structure to plot to characters to setting to organization to pacing to figuring out how to get your characters back out of the tree. One of my favorite writing teachers always said that you need to put lots of things into your writing toolbox, because as a writer you will have to fix LOTS of problems. The more things you have in your writing toolbox, the better equipped you'll be to deal with those problems.
We read things that help us become better writers ALL THE TIME, right? The next time you read something and get that What-the-Sam-Hill-will-I-ever-use-this-for? look on your face, don't dismiss the idea. Graciously place it in your toolbox. Someday you just might run into the problem that it is the perfect fix for.