When your child asks, “Mom, where do babies come from?” there’s that sweaty moment of panic and, “Oh, God, how do I answer this?” When a friend asks, “Where do you get your inspirations for writing?” or “How do you cultivate new stories to tell?” I kind of have that same reaction. Kind of appropriate, because to a writer, your story IS your baby.
I never thought I’d find myself writing a blog post about writing because I often feel like I have nothing to say on the matter that hasn’t already been said.
But I was inspired.
My friend Laura recently rediscovered a short story she’d written in college, and she said that while it wasn’t perfect, she still liked it, and it made her realize that it had been a long time since she felt like she had something to say. On her Facebook page, she asked, “Writer friends, did you move away from and rediscover writing? How did you begin to cultivate new stories to tell?”
Knowing there was no short answer for me (there never is), I let it percolate for about twelve hours. Here’s what I came up with.
I’ve been writing since elementary school. I started writing stories for fun before NaNoWriMo even existed. My first shot at a novel looked a lot like what became the TV show Charmed. I loved my English classes and I was one of those twisted sisters who liked essay exams.
My teachers from my junior and senior years of high school – Ms. Gauvin and Ms. Strumbel – deserve platinum apples for grading my book reports and essays which were thrice as long as most of my classmates’. Some teachers would dock points. They didn’t, and I love them for that. For Advanced Placement English, I wrote a compare/contrast paper about Hamlet and MacBeth. It was about 25 pages. I think it needed to be ten.
In high school and college, I didn’t write for fun and pure creativity. Writing was and is fun, but I didn’t write off the top of my head. I wrote for specific reasons: papers, projects, finals. This continued in the work world too. I wrote a lot, but it was within parameters set by others, like clients and supervisors. I wrote and used my creativity, but within a particular context.
So answering her first question, I never really left and then rediscovered writing. I’d been writing all along. But purely creative work? From my head and my gut and my heart? That resumed around 1998 when my oldest was two years old and I no longer had the time or energy to audition for plays and memorize lines. Writing became my creative outlet.
I liked her turn of phrase – “cultivate new stories to tell.” It’s the sign of a writer!
You can be inspired, but stories do take cultivation, and I know I’m not the best gardener. In a real garden, if you get annoyed with maintaining the plants, you can choose to just let them run wild and it might look wonderful. With stories, if you don’t maintain them and care for them, they don’t do anything. They don’t die, but they don’t bloom either.
So to answer Laura’s second question – which I sort of did on her Facebook page – stories are everywhere. Anything that settles in your heart and won’t leave is a potential story.
I find inspiration in locked doors, broken butterflies, and century-old photos; in Bible verses and single sentences spoken by friends (or strangers) that moved me to tears; in music (I have a special playlist for NaNoWriMo 2011 that crosses about three decades) or photos; in anguish and joy and epic stupidity.
I do keep journals. I use them for emotion dumps, kind of like scrubbing the hard drive, or “defragging.” The journals are real life material, and the pages hold the white noise and heavy emotions so that I can get at the stories underneath. In the journal entries, I see patterns – beginnings, middles, and ends – that are stories in and of themselves.
Life provides the material. It would be a shame not to use it. How you use it – blogging, songwriting, painting, woodworking, fiction, nonfiction – is your call. Be inspired. Be the translator of a moment through your medium.
- Prepping for NaNoWriMo 2011 (saratoolemiller.wordpress.com)
- What I learned through NaNoWriMo (enermazing.wordpress.com)