I think all creatives have this fantasy of how we wished inspiration would come to us. For me, I'd like to be sitting at a beach house with a slight breeze coming off the ocean. And, with my laptop ready to go, I would look wistfully into the distance and plot out a three-book series by lunchtime, which would involve a nice fish and chips platter.
Instead, my inspiration comes in spurts, often when my mind is on autopilot. It’s easy to laugh at people who have a waterproof recorder for the ideas that come when they are in the shower but, truth be told, I could use one myself.
When I get that burst of genius, it’s always a question of whether I can hold onto the idea long enough until I can get to a computing device to write it down (Note to self: check out voice recorders at Amazon).
And, as much as I love the pastor at my church, I’ve been known to get ideas for my books during the service. I feel totally guilty plotting a character’s story arc when I should be paying attention to the theology of the Apostles. I’m torn between filing the idea away, hoping it will come back afterwards or continuing down the rabbit hole until the entire thing spools out.
Some of you are probably saying I should take notes and get it out, which sounds fine until you realize that would mean I’m writing “He needs to die a gruesome death” next to a Bible verse about loving your neighbor.
I would like to tell the Muses to only give me inspiration on the weekends between 3 and 5 p.m., but unfortunately creativity seems to be a bit more spontaneous than that.
My wife and I were on vacation recently and we had dinner at a fancy restaurant with a former governor, a big-time political donor, someone who may have been in “the family business” and a superhero in disguise (or a secret agent, we couldn’t tell which).
OK, we’re not positive about the jobs/identities of our fellow dinner guests or server at a fancy restaurant where we enjoyed our meal (we may be foodies on a budget at home, but those rules get bent a bit on vacation), but my wife and I, who are writers and therefore people watchers, decided to take our game to the next level.
Based on our observations (and snippets of conversations that we, as former reporters, may have overheard), we made some (quasi) educated guesses about the secrets they were withholding from the rest of us.
Normally we keep our people peeping to a respectable minimum but we are always on the hunt for good characters. It’s so easy to go through life and not notice anyone but, when you do open your eyes, it’s fascinating who you come across and who they really are, or project themselves to be (hey, I’m as guilty as the next fella in this regard).
As for our secret agent/superhero, I’m sure the decoder ring left at our table was a compete accident.
All storytellers have a beginning, a backstory if you will. Mine started in junior high, when I was inspired to tell the tale of Joe Thomas, Private Eye. Far from brilliant, it was three pages of awful, (or offal, take your pick). It was set in the 1980s when I was a teen, but apparently I was riffing on some bizarre combination of the Hardy Boys, the Maltese Falcon and Magnum, P.I. in my head as I wrote, then typed (yes, typed, like on a typewriter) the terrible tale.
My first line of fiction: "It was chilly night in Ol' Saint Louie". I so wish I were kidding. I had never read Edward George Bulwer-Lytton's "It was a dark and stormy night", but I suppose there is truth in the axiom that all good writers start out as bad writers.
The cliché-ridden story featured a car chase, missing money, sinister warehouse and, of course, the Italian mob. But at least now I have proof that sarcasm was my first language. A sample line of dialogue: "Great," I said. "Now the mafia has a price on our heads. Man, I hate Mondays."
A teenage Fitzgerald, I was not.
Thankfully, as I started writing more seriously in college, the dross fell away and my style became a bit more polished. I may not have created a character like Jay Gatsby yet, but Joe Thomas, thankfully, is in my rear-view mirror.
Right where he belongs.
I've been writing stories and taking photos since I was old enough to hold a pencil and stand behind a tripod.