Pretty trees, cute caves and weird ideas

  • By Sallie Rose Hollis
    By Sallie Rose Hollis

I remember countless concepts about writing imparted to me by the late Wiley Hilburn Jr., longtime head of the Louisiana Tech journalism department.

In my journal that was required in his creative writing course I took as a sophomore, I carelessly described the trees outside the classroom window as “pretty.”

“Never use ‘pretty’ as an adjective,” I remember him saying. To paraphrase his critique: You’ve got to paint a picture with your words, and you’ve got to make that picture portray something unique. “Pretty” conveys absolutely no details to help the reader envision what you’re talking about.

In the decades since then, I’ve often tried to describe those trees to myself.

They’ve been scarlet … amber … crimson … flaming … brilliant … vibrant. But I’ve still not settled on anything. (Wait a minute: I kind of like “the auburn of autumn” or “the kaleidoscope of autumn colors.”)

Yet here’s the thing. If I had just listened to Mama when I wrote my very first story at age 7, Wiley would never have had to drill me on the use of “pretty.” That’s because Mama had already coached me about “cute.”

You see, that childhood story was about me and my dog, Jetty, discovering an Indian cave, and my big descriptive word for the cave’s interior was “cute.” Mama advised me that an Indian cave would never be “cute.” She and Wiley adamantly agreed in that regard.

What I’m actually getting to, though, is something else Wiley shared. “I never want to write one of those I-don’t-know-what-towrite-about columns,” he once told me. And he never did.

But I was distinctly thinking about doing that this week. I went back to my list of bookmarked articles under the heading “Column Stuff,” and I perused such links as “Find Great Blog Topics With These Can’t-Fail Techniques.” Then a web search turned up “Blog Topic Idea Generators When You Don’t Know What to Write About.” (Blog / column. Potato / Potahtoe.)

That article subsequently led me to HubSpot’s blog topic generator, “a great choice for when you have a primary and secondary keyword, and you want an array of topics that focus on those two options.” Just enter the key words into a search bar and - presto! - five ideas spew forth. I entered “column” and “ideas.”

The results? “Column: Expectation vs. Reality” … “Will Ideas Ever Rule the World?” … “The Next Big Thing in Column” … “Ideas Explained in 140 or Fewer Characters” … “This Week’s Top Stories About Column.”


My web search also revealed the site Portent Idea Generator, which helps create catchy titles for your next writing endeavor. “Simply type in your subject, and the Idea Generator will spin up a creative title and advice to take it to the next level.” I typed “newspaper columns.”

Here goes: “What Jezebel Should Write About Newspaper Columns” … “Why Newspaper Columns Are Sexy” … “Save Your Marriage Using Only Newspaper Columns” … “How Newspaper Columns Will Stop Global Warming” … “Why Newspaper Columns Are More Popular Than Beyonce” … and “14 Least Favorite Newspaper Columns” (Oops).

That reminds me. I’ve been wanting to start tossing would-be quartet names into my column, as Pulitzer Prize winner Dave Barry used to do with fictitious band names. So that led me to Vocal Group Name Generator on the site Fantasy Name Generators. Ready?

The Tone Commandments … Light My Choir … Cleftomaniacs … Ransom Notes … Wicked Pitch of the West … Voices in Our Head ….

On that note, I think I hear someone telling me it’s time to sign off.

Sallie Rose Hollis is a Union Parish native, retired Louisiana Tech associate professor of journalism and Ruston resident. She can be reached via email at sallierose@