Monday, November 21, 2011
where does your inspiration come from?
As a writer, I'm always looking for inspiration for my next story: news stories, friends' stories, overheard conversations, dreams, family stories, "what if" questions. I get a lot of ideas, and a lot of ideas get shelved. But I've never been inspired the same way twice - I can't look for inspiration to come the way it came before. Each story I've written began from a unique, unexpected seed.
One story stands out in particular, a story inspired from my incurable people-watching. I can clearly trace it to the moment in time when I thought, "I want to write a story about that." Now, probably five years later, it is "The Yellow Pantsuit," the title story of my thesis:
About five years ago, around this time of year, I sat in a sandwich cafe with my husband for lunch one Saturday - the kind of upscale fast-food cafe that's intentionally plopped in the middle of a busy shopping district. Lots of wealthier people shop there. We were just there for the food.
Anyway, I watched an older couple enter the store and order their lunch. Their demeanor toward each other and everybody else struck me as telling. They were aloof, entitled - yet domestically aloof with each other, by which I assumed they'd been together a long time.
The husband - a tall, thin, elegant man - sat down at a table as far away from other patrons as possible, while the wife - short, round, and ostentatious - ordered at the counter. She brought their food to the table and did all the talking, serious and curt, while he did a lot of staring out the window. All of a sudden, she began to choke on her sandwich, and he seemed unfazed. Not a hint of surprise, or concern - he didn't move fast to do anything for her. He eventually held her hand and continued eating and looking out the window while she sputtered and coughed and turned shades of red. After a few minutes, she recovered on her own and continued her monologue, both of them acting like nothing at all had happened.
Their behavior was so surprising to me, so fascinating, that I couldn't forget it. I began writing by imagining myself in the husband's place. What was going through his mind while he stared out the window and pretty much ignored his wife and everyone else? What does he think of his wife? What did he think of her when they met, and why has that changed? The story has gone through several revisions, but it began and remains as his inner monologue while he watches his wife order and eat and talk and choke and talk again. It's my advisor's favorite story, and it was a lot of fun to imagine and write and revise, which is a rare gift in my experience.
I'm always curious about the genesis of other people's creative ideas - whether it's writing, web design, photography, sewing, music, etc. In what ways do creative ideas occur to you? What do you do to foster and watch and listen for inspiration?