Thursday, November 12, 2009

Accidental Inspiration

Though I have relished my guest bloggers' posts in the Totally Sane Interviews with Vampires, Hobbits, and Talking Toads series, I feel the need to insert at least a modicum of my own writing in what is essentially a blog writing journey. But rest assured, the series will return tomorrow, and will hopefully continue.

For a long time, I tackled my stories in an "artistic" way: working on a scene here, a scene there, trying to pull all the different pieces together later on to form a cohesive story―which, let me tell you, did NOT work well for me. My brain just doesn't function like that. I have to know what comes first before I can determine what comes next. But I was under the impression that "creative" meant "non-linear-never-do-anything-in-a-normal-predictable-fashion." Talk about feeling like a grade-A loser. I began to wonder if I should set my sights a little lower, like maybe to become a yellow pages proofreader (No offense meant; I appreciate yellow pages most when they are typo-free).

Disillusioned and nearly drained of my will to live, I stumbled upon a flyer advertising what was probably one of the biggest things to ever happen at my university: a lecture to be given by none other than the one and only Toni Morrison. The buzz circulating around campus (alright, just the English department) was that Morrison had planned to discuss her very own writing process, and my first thought was, "OH MY WORD, I'm-the-luckiest-freaking-human-alive-since-fiction-was-invented-[breath]-hopefully-I'll-discover-the-well-hidden-secret-to-writing-the-masterpiece-novel." So the big day arrived, and I skipped classes to line up hours in advance (Yep, I was numero uno in line). Once in the auditorium, I sat down in my seat way in the back (far away from the privileged class of Tenured Professors) and waited for the magic. And this is what Ms. Morrison had to say (more or less):

Sometimes I begin in the middle; sometimes I begin with the end; and sometimes, I just start at the beginning.

Uh. Wait. What? Oh frick!

I was immensely disappointed to discover that there was no formula. But Ms. Morrison did say one thing that I have incorporated into my own writing (roughly paraphrased):

Let the image that sings to you drive you.

Okay, so I don't actually remember if she said that. But I'd like to think that she did because it grants a certain degree of validity to my writing process. Because, you see, even though I generally always start at the beginning at Chapter 1, working in a fairly linear manner towards the end, my story ideas almost always begin with a single image that drives the characterization, the setting, and even the plot. Often, I stumble upon these images by accident. For an example, allow me to refer back to an old short story of mine (also mentioned in a previous post) about an old man who steals a forklift; the central image for that story was, well, an old man driving a forklift down the road in the dead of night. That image jump-started the story for me.

Anyway, I always keep a camera in my handbag now. Okay, not for that purpose. I have two adorable kids who have a habit of creating photo ops when I least expect it, but the camera does come in handy to me as an idea-starved writer, allowing me to capture images that inspire stories. So, I thought I might share some of these scene setters with you from now on (please ignore the wrinkles―they've been stashed away from prying eyes for a long time). If you're feeling a little tapped and are in need of some fresh inspiration, maybe you'll find it here. I already have some ideas for this first one, actually. But why don't you give it a go?


  1. Didn't we "tap" the #amwritingkeg last night? Just sayin'.

    I do love finding things that spur my creativity. I got a short story out of someone's name not being erased quite properly from an in-out board in my office. I got a flash fic out of some song lyrics by The Hold Steady ("Stuck Between Stations"--awesome song!).

    Eudora Welty wrote a beautiful short story (the title escapes me) based solely on the image of an old woman she saw walking across a field in the distance one day. Clearly, you're not alone in that source of inspiration.

  2. Love love this :-) In fact, I bookmarked it! Inspiration is so hard to come by on some days...

    The other week, I was looking through google images to find a stone cabin - there's one in my story and I wasn't sure how to describe it. When I found the picture I'd been looking for, ideas literally shot out of my keyboard. It was really great - not only did I have the perfect place for what I had in mind, but it came with an extra side of ideas that I'd never have come up with before.

    Carol, PS - considering your fear of doorknobs - I seriously doubt you'd ever compare to the grade A loser guy, haha - did you SEE his place?

    Oh God - also the forklift video so reminds me of how I felt about my story a week ago, hahaha

  3. Simon, you crack me up (#amwritingkegger, indeed). But it does me good to hear I'm in such good company. Hey, would you be interested in doing a guest post on flash fiction. I don't know what it is, and I'm sure others don't either (or how to approach it as writers or readers). Would love to have you.

    Sara, you've gotta be my twin separated at birth. I sweart it (well, minus three years). I jsut adore you! So glad you enjoyed the links (especially because it took Foh'eva!).

    Incidentally, that inspiration photo is one I took myself. We were driving through the Lake District, and we just happened upon this little snapshot-worthy scene. Something about this tiny postbox in such a desolate, yet beautiful setting. And truly, there were no houses around. At all. It was magical--a sign of a hidden civilization.

  4. Sure, I'd do a guest post on flash fiction, Carol. Let me see what I can work up over the weekend.

  5. Inspiration always strikes at the most inopportune moments. Usually in the very early hours of the morning. And you can guarantee all the pens in the house have been stolen!

    Good post :)

  6. I'm with QF - inspiration can strike when I'm least able to listen. I try to use a tiny part of my brain to repeat the idea over and over and over, so that when I do sit down to write I can remember it. Sometimes, though the tiny brain part just isn't up to the task!


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