I received this assignment in one of my graduate classes, one meant to teach us creative writers about publishing, marketing, and editing. At first, I found my Self-Topics essay to be tedious and frustrating, but boy has it come in handy.
Okay, so the assignment is to create a list of TEN topics you want to write about (this can include topics you currently write about and have written about in the past. If you feel you have a lot to write about, you can bump that number up to twelve or fifteen, but you MUST list at least TEN.
After you have made a list of these ten topics, you must then create a scene that represents this topic in some way. More specifically, and more challenging, they must be memories of some kind, i.e. where you have experience with this topic.
And finally, find the market for your topic. This means you should list one or two writers and their works as examples. You can also, for added preparation list one or two magazines or publishers that would publish an essay, story, or novel about your topics.
Okay, here’s mine as an example:
Topic One—Jason, my husband:
The day I met my husband was a mere two weeks after he had come home from Afghanistan for the first time. He was much thinner, not that he is by any means large now. Our first date was in SUNY Plattsburgh’s organic dining hall. We sat at the speckled blue and black lunch tables with my two friends Pork and Meurlla. He easily partook in man-banter with them both.
I stood and rounded the table to get a refill of chocolate milk, purposefully circling around the back of him. My hand found his short shorn hair, and he turned to look up at me with his large eyes popping wide. Gentle beats of my heart tattered against my ribs and invaded my lungs as my steps broke the contact.
O’Brien, Tim. The Things They Carried. New York: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 1990. Print.
Topic Two—Things my mother taught me:
Half shirts and red lipstick attracts boys, even if you’re a chubby eleven-year-old. I couldn’t give no as an answer. My mother had bought them for me and told me to go find myself a boyfriend. The half shirt was beautiful, or it would have been if it covered my belly. This may have been her way of telling me I was fat and needed to lose weight, but she’d never give me those pills she took to stay skinny.
I hung the flimsy piece of fabric in my closet until my best friend tried it on and took it home to show off to the guy she lost her virginity to. That night after she went home, when she was likely just dancing around for Mark, I sat at the base of my bed with the small flask of warm liquid my mother hid in her underwear drawer in a man’s sock.
Tan, Amy. The Joy Luck Club. New York: Random House, 1989. Print.
Topic Three—Drugged and Delusional Relationships:
At five p.m., I picked up, Rob, the maintenance man from McDonald’s, in my beat up, silver Ford Tempo and we cruised through the neighborhood connecting his house to my father’s until we reached Route 51. Across the four lanes sat the thirty-year-old McDonald’s where we’d pick up J’dub and Mike and cruise around to smoke some pot. It was my first time.
We decided to park behind the Taco Bell at the other end of the strip mall. Mike rolled a blunt in my back seat as Rob turned to me.
“So, what you’re gonna do is hold it like this.” He held up his large black hand and curled it like a shell so that his thumb and index finger pointed down, parallel to his throat. “Then you’re gonna take short little pulls on it, like a cigarette, but there’s no filter, so be gentle.” His over-plumped brown and pink streaked lips pressed against his fingers in small kissing-like movements.
I nodded, and J’dub pulled out his Zippo, the one with the black cracked casing with a lopsided skull. It was really the only thing cool about him, minus his connections. He spun the thin cigar-like blunt until the flame produced an even orange circle at the end of it. The car filled with sweet, stingy smoke as he passed it over the driver’s seat to me.
The blunt sat funny in my hand as I mimed what Rob had done. My hand twisted funny and ash spilt across my sweatshirt. We passed it in near silence until they were satisfied. I didn’t think I felt anything. I pulled us out of the parking lot and went the back way across the strip mall. Only, I couldn’t feel my feet or my legs. So I cruised to a stop at Ray Moore and Flannigan’s and shifted the Tempo into park.
“Hey, Rob. Can you drive? I can’t feel my legs.”
Burgess, Melvin. Smack. New York City: Avon Books Inc., 1999. Print.
Topic Four—New York State/ Syracuse, Watertown, Plattsburgh:
Jackie and I trotted down to Green Lake’s truly green water as her sister trailed behind us.
“Ooo, you see that guy over there?” Jackie started immediately. I saw him. He was like something out of a Sears’ catalogue with tight swim trunks on and an oversized upper body. “Do you know what I would do to him?”
“What would you do?” I asked, but I didn’t think she knew. He was too old for us and had a tiny brunette hanging on every piece of his body that she could touch.
“Oh, I would do everything to him. I’d let him do everything to me too.” She giggled in a high screech.
I wanted to punch her in her swollen face.
She continued to gabber on, but I stopped hearing her until the algae filled water covered my feet up to my ankles.
I was definitely not washing the foam pieces of my headphones in this.
Jackie ran into me suddenly, knocking me into the water. I landed on all fours as Jackie lay on my back like a sunbathing seal.
Her little sister splashed water at us, basting us. I pushed her off of my back and sat upright on my knees. She hit me fast in the ribs with the butt of her palm.
“Bitch.” She stood, and her face was pinched together around her nose like a magnet had forced them all there.
I slid over onto my butt and went backwards into the water. Breathing out of my nose, I let the green take over me and stain my blonde hair.
Perrotta, Tom. Little Children. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 2004. Print.
Topic Five—The UK/London, Scotland, and Ireland:
Sweat had just been trickling down my neck and back when we were standing at the base of the castle. It wasn’t really a castle, but the tourists seemed to think so, and I liked the appeal of it. The winding stone steps were hard on my knees, making me wish I had worn my insoled shoes instead. The wind whipped at the hair falling from my ponytail and dried the dampness along my shirt. Should have worn a jacket. Nearly eighty degrees outside, but climb up a couple hundred feet in this country and someone’s likely to lose a finger from the frostbite.
The couple in front of me was giggling again, and the boy had bad gas. Every time he moved I would smell the broccoli he had eaten for dinner the previous night. They shouldn’t subject decent middleclass women to this kind of torture. It was ungodly. But I’d already come all this way, and I was going to kiss the Blarney stone so I could go back home and give my husband the piece of my mind that I’d never been able to express properly. (Granted that last line was just for tension’s sake, I love my husband).
Tindall,Gillian The House by the Thames: And the People Who Lived There. London: Pimlico, 2007. Print.
Topic Six—Dysfunctional food service:
She leaned out the drive thru window and into the hot air, smiling at Marshall. “Five dollar, sucky-sucky. Ten dollar, I love you long time.”
Pulling the black Dunkin’ Donuts cap from his head, he scratched at his blond hair and grinned. “You just want me for my package.” And he grabbed the headset control box and jiggled it around as if he were grabbing himself before he took his broom and dustpan in hand and swept the drive-thru lane.
Laughing, she grabbed the clipboard from the counter and walked back toward her prep table to make some bagels. On her way, she whacked Steve, the boy she used to sit next to on the bus in high school that wore his hair long like the Beatles, square on the ass. He was a tiny man and had once fit himself into a women’s size zero but had complained that it crushed his junk. “Don’t forget I want to see the kids this weekend, baby momma drama.”
Steve pulled the headset down and winked. “You got it daddy. Thank you for choosing Dunkin’ Donuts, would you like to try a combo today?”
Kingsolver, Barbara. Small Wonder. New York: HarperCollins, 2002. Print.
I couldn’t meditate. Having everyone else concentrate and expecting me to be able to feel the energy only made me anxious. Was that it? The tingling under my knees? No, that was just my legs falling asleep. My back groaned with aches of being pulled and held straight. Clearing my mind never worked for this shit. I’d have to wait until we went downstairs and did the hatha yoga, then the relaxation exercise.
After a vigorous hour of stretching and poses, we finally laid back on our mats with our arms and legs spread. The slow buzz filled my body, the kind of feeling I had expected during the group meditation, as I told my body to relax. My feet are relaxing. My feet are relaxing. My toes and heels and arches are relaxing. My feet are completely relaxed. This process took time, but it worked. My muscles twitched and settled into a relaxing state. Once my entire body is vibrating with peace, I count my breaths. In: one, two, three. Out: one, two, three.
My brain slowly falls away from the counting, but I cannot clear my mind. I am ritualistically unable. No writer ever wants to cut the flow of thoughts completely. Instead, I imagine myself diving from pure whiteness into a clear blue water, so clear that the top reflects no colors, the a clearness that creates the translucent blue.
Gilbert, Elizabeth. Eat Pray Love. New York: Penguin, 2006. Print.
Topic Eight—Social Awkwardness:
It was her thirteenth birthday, and I was the only one who had agreed to celebrate it with her at the beach.
The only reason I had agreed was because I knew what it was like to celebrate a birthday without any friends. That wasn’t exactly true, I guess.
My ninth birthday was spent waiting for guests to arrive with a big vanilla birthday cake on the island in my kitchen, balloons scattered across the kitchen ceiling, and a pink cardboard birthday hat with metallic pink floss stapled to the top clamped around my head.
One of my friends arrived. She was an awkward girl from Girl Scouts that had a photographic memory, and she was sick, so she only stayed for a few minutes.
I didn’t tell Jackie about it.
Jackie was a step under me—the dirtier girl.
Cappello, Mary. Awkward: A Detour. New York: Bellevue Literary Press, 2007. Print.
Topic Nine— PTSD/Bipolar Disorder:
His arm was up again. His hand precariously balanced on his ear as it swayed back and forth. Jason only did this when he had flashback dreams. Once where he could almost wake himself up, but they were too real for him to know any better. If the arm fell, he’d awaken and not be able to sleep again.
I reached out and took his arm in order to gently place it down along his body without waking him. Closing my eyes again, I waited, stroking my thumb over his hand until it pulled out of mine and was precariously balance once again on his ear. We repeated that process three times. It was always three times.
Kaysen, Susanna. Girl Interrupted. New York: Random House, 1993. Print.
Topic Ten—Vampires and mythological creatures:
When I was fifteen, I read a six novel series entitled The Last Vampire by Christopher Pike. After closing the sixth book, I sat on my bathroom floor and cried. It was over. It was then I began to jones for a piece of paper and a pen so hard that one might think me an addict; I needed to recreate the character that I had loved so much. Because of this vampire series, I began to write my first novel, my baby, about a girl who is born half-human and half-phoenix before she was changed into a vampire. In my head, all of the worlds others have created swirled. It was time to do my best and create something that no one else had created, a new world unseen by another’s mind. I wrote to twist, fold, flip, and change all those things that I have come across before and make it my own, make it something new.
Pike, Christopher. The Last Vampire. New York: Pocket Books, 1994. Print.
So, there are my ten topics, with scenes, and example authors. What are yours?
Feel free to share what you discover in the comments below, on my Facebook page or my Twitter!