The Story-Idea Mill

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Humor Journal – 4-27-2018

I know I should be writing this week’s humor column, but I have no idea what to write. It’s easier to just put up my feet and read The Funny Times over morning at breakfast: Coffee, apple slices, coffee, pieces of cheese, and more coffee.

Maybe I’ll get an idea if I read on….

There’s some great stuff in the FT, both cartoons and narratives. I especially like the column on bogus apologies from “the-view-from-the-bleachers guy.” I enjoy the issues with his articles. He consistently produces material that’s high quality with apparent effortless ease.

I hate him.

But I do think there’s a lot to learn here. So, I read him with keen professional interest.

His column for this month–The History of the Apology–is entertaining. Better yet, it has a great tool for generating content time and again. Just toss a the right phrase in front of any topic and give the sense of continuity that all columnists seek. So, the “History Of” or maybe a “Short History Of” is a great gambit when staring down a column deadline.


Going this route opens an entire world of possibilities. And maybe I can use my journal entry for today, April 27th, in lieu of an actual humor column. Hmmm… Sounds easy. Easy is good. Worth a try?

On with the analysis.

It’s good to compare the apology story with others in FT. Many are funny tall-tale retellings about almost-happened life experiences, semi-actual events such as spring garden stuff, dancing, and whatnot. Do these help me generate ideas?

Maybe, but do I want to give them a whirl? All the “actuals” would mean, getting dressed in silly—even smelly—clothes, and going outside.

Naw. Too much work.

I could fall back on my go-to writing technique when I am dry on ideas– Google a date to find an obscure national holiday. Writers, you should give this a try. You can use this as a springboard.

Many of bogus holidays are manufactured by the PR department of the Universal, Self-Serving Widget Company. But, hey, if you’re desperate for an idea, you can overlook being played. There’s an upside to being a shill–economy of motion. You don’t have to exit your bedroom or your bathrobe. No, you can just take a calendar in hand and start pounding the keyboard, and often as not you’ll veer off into another topic.

No problem. Just cut the faux lead. This is the stone-soup writing prompt method, and I recommend it mostly highly. But I think the Bleachers-Guy (sorry, I forgot your name and I’m too lazy to walk back into the dining room) “History Of” idea may be better.

I think I’ll steal it.

Still, maybe I’d better rework it a bit, something all professional writers do when covering their tracks after absconding with an idea. I could go with “The Secrets Of … balancing your checkbook,” or “Lose Weight While … fixing a flat tire” “How to Improve Your Sex Life With … high speed house-cleaning (insert sponsored brand reference here).” This last one could be really great, if only I weren’t allergic to Easy-Off.

Anyway, what were we talking about? Oh, yeah, producing consistent humor ideas, or at least some sort of an idea. Any idea. On demand. Day in–Day out. The hardest part of being a columnist.

Back in the Stone Age when I had smallish kids, my world was awash in ideas. It’s easy to write when they put buttered toast in the VCR and a VCR tape in the toaster. But now that my four offspring are now grown–no grand-kids yet–I have to settle for columns generated by quirky bits about Karin’s dogs, or the odd things we do to entertain and care for her critters. Ideas are harder to come by. A method would help.

Yes, there’s the dogs. They do generate ideas. But do I–or do you–really need to own one… or two… or in our case, three? Wouldn’t the ideal idea-generating, dog-situation be akin to pool ownership? Think about it. Isn’t it better to have a friend with a pool? Preferably one that is just a short walk down the road?

Dog lovers, just go with me on this for a minute. You can still be invited to interact with puppies or pools, to swim, as it were, in the setting. You still get to pet the pooch, to set on the porch, to sunbathe, to BBQ, to drink wine… And then to walk home.

A short walk after a swim is refreshing, and you don’t have to vacuum the pool. And dogs that live just down the street are just as sweet. Then, they can bark their brains out and it won’t matter a whit. There’s the savings from a kibble-free household. Furthermore, if the pooches get out and poop on the next-door neighbor’s lawn… well, then that’s still not your problem, one way or the other.

Not convinced? Neither is Karin.

As far as pets and pool go, we’ve had both in painfully close proximity. This means that, until recently when we moved, it was possible to stroll outside, soil your shoes, and fall to your death in just three or four steps. Our back yard was a one-stop-shop for major unpleasantness. And since–in theory–I was the one charged to vacuum, our pool was what biologists call a “zone of repugnance.” That’s science-speak for an avoided-space around a place where nothing grows and no one goes.

It’s God’s “stay away” message.

I took this to heart and spent as little time as possible in the back yard of our former home, the one with the semi-chlorinated fiberglass puddle. My inattention caused our pool to routinely fill with leaves, turn green, and look like something from a B-rate flick where the Swamp Thing emerges to strangle anyone in its path.

This was, of course, precisely my fear.

That, and the dread that someone would grab me, force a leaf-skimmer into my hand, and chain me to the diving board. Things are much better now. No pool at the new home. Now my only worry about is whether the windmill that towers over our new back yard will topple and kill me as I BBQ dinner.

Yes, we have a windmill in our back yard, and yes, it looks like it wants to kill me. More on this in future columns….

Oh, oh, 1000 words. Time to bail, and what were we talking about? Writing ideas?

Oh, yeah.

Too late to offer love-life advice, I guess. Other than to let your wife or girlfriend have all the dogs her heart desires. After all, she keeps you around. Since it’s almost May–the eve of Mother’s Day–it’s time to think about getting a gift, maybe a leash or a muzzle… For the dog, that is.

And do check out the calendar of bogus-holidays at

With that in mind, enjoy the rest of your April 27th, or as we like to call it around here: “National Devil Dogs Day.”

Yeah, it’s a thing. Really. No shill.

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