Monday, May 28, 2012

Shallee McArthur: The Key to Writing a Deeper Book - Get Outside Yourself!

I am especially honored to have Shallee McArthur here today, the first of many guests to come (the outpouring of support during this hiatus phase has been amazing - thank you, everyone!). I first met Shallee while waiting in line for a Brandon Sanderson signing, and we've been blogging buds ever since, and I can't wait for someone to pick up her book, The Unhappening of Genesis Lee (which will be the hottest YA sci-fi since Across the Universe, I have no doubt). Take it away, Shallee!

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When I was a sophomore in college, I took the most random road trip of my life. It involved me, a friend, a stuffed orangutan named Olaf, and a spinning bottle that chose our direction: north to Idaho.

Honestly. Idaho. What was of interest in Idaho? A lot, it turned out.

The whole trip started with a challenge from my creative writing professor. He wanted us to see life differently by simply doing something we'd never done before. He said to keep growing as writers - and as human beings - we had to get outside ourselves and our routines.

Usually, we have one perspective on life: our own. There's nothing wrong with that. It's what makes our writing unique, how we can take ideas that have been done a thousand times and turn them into stories only we can write. But it's important to remember that our view of life is not the ONLY view of life. Our stories become deeper when we incorporate characters with different views on key issues, or plots that show the complexities of a theme.

And so, I took that challenge and set out for Idaho with my friend. We had no destination. We belted out Good Charlotte songs, laughed over the insane stories in the Weekly World News, and stopped whenever we saw signs for things like "Historic Rock Formation, next exit." We discovered ancient horse fossils and a former Japanese internment camp. We met a 20-year-old guy from Australia traveling the world to BASE jump from everything he could, and watched him parachute off a bridge. We offered to wash our own dishes at a tiny mom-and-pop cafe, and though we were denied, we learned a lot about small-town life from that mom and pop.

Over the course of 3 days and 870 miles, I broke outside myself. I saw how the world looked from other people's perspectives. My own perspective changed. It didn't give me any brilliant story ideas, or change my life forever. But it widened my own view of the world just a little.

Any small thing we do to get outside ourselves can deepen us as individuals. And that, in the end, is what helps us write deeper stories.

I'm Shallee, and Idaho is a lot cooler than people give it credit for.


  1. That's why I'm grateful I've lived in so many states and foreign countries - it's helped me see the world from many perspectives.

  2. There's really only a short window of time to do things like that, and I'm glad you took advantage of that.

    Shallee's doing fine, but I still think Idaho has an image problem! :)

  3. Thanks for letting me be a guest poster, David! I'm honored to be on your blog. :)

    Alex, it's true, living different places is a great way to see the world through different eyes.

    DL, I'm glad I did too! Certainly couldn't do it now, with a toddler and one on the way! :)

  4. Cool you took the opportunity to step outside your comfort zone. I find whenever I do I'm glad I did. I bet you've got some great memories :)

  5. I LOVE this post. It makes me want to go out and do something "different". Thanks, Shallee and David.

  6. Nice to met you Shallee and I think what you did was amazing. I have been in Central Florida these past four months and when one leaves the amusement area (Orlando) there is a whole other world.

    This area of Florida is WAY different than South Florida with its international flavor and white powdery beaches. I have observed a simpler way of life with down-to-earth people; many who have never ventured out of the security of this community.


    Thanks for introducing Shallee to us... I hope you are having a great Memorial Day weekend.

  7. Great post!

    It sounds like it was an interesting experience, traveling through Idaho.

  8. I love that you brought Olaf the Orangutan along. :D It sounds like you had a great time!

  9. Love this interview . . . and love me some YA SciFi!

  10. That sounds like the best road trip ever! We love taking road trips but I've never ventured on one without knowing the destination and I think I'd like to give it a try. Definitely sounds like a great way to get writing ideas and inspiration!

  11. Wow, that sounds like a lot of fun! And a great way to broaden perspective. :)

  12. Shallee--I'm from Idaho, so I know how cool it can be. I love your adventurous spirit. This sounds like something I would love to do with my kids :)

    David--Welcome back :)

  13. Hey! I went to school in Idaho!

    I think it's important to think outside yourself (not always easy as said for me). ;)

    Great post Shallee!

  14. I like how your random road trip took you to a place where I've lived practically all my life. I've only been a Utahn for four years. It's hard for me to believe that the stuff you describe sounds new because I've lived around it forever and it's boring.

    I bought my Prometheus tickets for the 11:59 showing at the Sandy (Jordan) IMAX. Hope to see you there. My crew that I'm going with is in rows G and F

  15. This is great! I've always wanted to take a trip like this just so I could see what the world is like for everyone else. Wonderful post!

  16. All you Idahoans make me smile. :) How could Idaho not be cool with such cool people in it? Thanks for the comments, including from the cool non-Idahoans!

  17. That is an awesome story! I wish I had done that when I was still in college. Alas, with little children it's just not possible. But i do feel like I've learned a lot just from being connected with a variety of people online. It's always good to expand your horizons :)