Idea Generation, Cross Pollination and the Writing Life

Wednesday, April 26, 2023

For those of you who aren’t familiar with the phrase cross pollination, it is when the pollen from one plant variety fertilizes the flowers of another variety. That’s the botanical definition. It is also when one thing influences or inspires another, such as when your other hobbies and interests influence or inspire your writing. 

It’s something I’ve been thinking about after reading How We Got to Now by Steven Johnson. In his book, Johnson discusses the long-term effects that various inventions have had on society and the world. For example, Guttenberg’s printing press led not only to the proliferation of printed books and increased literacy but also a rise in the use of eyeglasses, the development of lenses, microscopes, and various medical innovations. 

As someone who is predominantly a nonfiction author, it isn’t hard to see why I would love this book. It is cover to cover facts. I learned about early watches, railroad timetables, and time zones. There was a chapter on transporting blocks of ice pre-refrigeration, chilled drinks, and central air conditioning. 

But what Johnson had to say at the end of the book applies, in my not-so-humble opinion, to all writers. He discussed how innovation and invention often came about at the hands of people who had multiple interests and numerous hobbies. Their knowledge in one area was cross pollinated by what they knew about something else. Their dreams were cross pollinated by their experiences in multiple fields. 

The best writers aren’t people who majored in writing and never held any other job. They don’t just sit at their desks day after day and write. They are people who are passionate about many different things.

Among my fellow children’s writers, I’m the oddity. I don’t have a degree in library sciences or education. I’ve never been a classroom teacher. I took three English classes in college. They were all required one way or the other. 

Instead, I bring degrees in anthropology and history to the table. I didn’t take any electives in from the English department, but I did have classes on world cultures, Latin American history, and immigration history.  Then there are my hobbies and the things I do with my family. I knit and crochet, bead and weave. I’ve helped my son clean deer hides while he’s told me about the workings of his 3D printer. I’m getting ready to take apart an old sewing machine so that I can give it a thorough cleaning and get it up and running. Let’s just say that I’m grateful for Youtube’s many videos on cleaning and repairing vintage machines. Next week I’ll be starting a class on sashiko embroidery. 

If you’re stuck and the words aren’t flowing, get up and go do something else. Pick up a discarded hobby. Go see that museum exhibit that you haven’t made it to yet. Feed your passions and get ready for cross pollination to happen. 


Sue Bradford Edwards' is the author of over 35 books for young readers.  To find out more about her writing, visit her site and blog, One Writer's Journey.

The next session of her new course, Pitching, Querying and Submitting Your Work will begin on May 1, 2023).  Coping with rejection is one of the topics she will cover in this course.

Sue is also the instructor for  Research: Prepping to Write Nonfiction for Children and Young Adults (next session begins May 1, 2023) and Writing Nonfiction for Children and Young Adults (next session begins May 1, 2023).


Ann Kathryn Kelly said...

Yep, it's key to clear your head when the words don't come. I chill around my flower gardens, pulling weeds and watching nature. That's a guarantee to remove writer's block! OK, now I need to hear more about deer hides and 3D printing!

Sue Bradford Edwards said...

You know both of the boys (husband and son) hunt. The boy got the idea that he had to cure a hide. Let's just say yuck but I know how to do it. He is finishing a University class where assignment #1 was repair a 3D printer that had been sold for parts. Then he had to design a product that solves a problem and create it. It has been fascinating to hear about everyone's projects.

Angela Mackintosh said...

I'm currently weed wacking five acres! We're also cleaning out the mechanic's workshop, setting up an art studio, and rebuilding the chicken coop. I've never owned a home/ranch before so everything is new to me, and I'm sure it'll get used in my writing somehow. I agree that being involved in other interests, jobs, hobbies, etc. can make our writing richer. Your degrees and wide variety of interests are proof of that, Sue! You have so much knowledge from writing all those nonfiction books, all on fascinating topics.

What is he going to do with the cured hide?

Sue Bradford Edwards said...

Weed wacking has to be a great way to vegetate and just think over an idea. What is he going to use the deer hide for? That's an excellent question. He and I get more into the "can I do it challenge" then the more practical aspects.

Ann Kathryn Kelly said...

A deer hide can make a unique area rug, or can be used on the back of a recliner! I have a reindeer pelt that I drape across the back of a chair. I got it when I visited the Arctic Circle (Lapland, above Finland). All this said, you need to not mind shedding if you use it on either the floor or on the back of a chair! But ... you'd already know that, SueBE. ;)

Sue Bradford Edwards said...

Definitely! This deer wasn't especially big so it wouldn't be much of a rug. More like a bath mat. Yuck.

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