OK, so now you have your ambition and a clear idea of what you want to write and why you want to write it. You also have in mind what that success is going to look like; be it money, prestige, intellectual plaudits or even becoming attractive, you know know what it is you want. And now you want your writing to take you there. So, you sit at your keyboard with an expectant grin and and a heart full of hope and you begin typing.
Then you stop.
Then you start again for a while and then you stop again.
Then you realise it’s a little harder than it looks.
Then you look out of the window and there’s a dog rolling on it’s back, but wait that lawn sprinkler might get him, yes it’s…
Damn it! You’ve just spent 20 minutes looking out of the window, you HAVE to get back to it.
So then, what is your inspiration? Where does this story / book / post / article / tweet have it’s origins? What is it that made me think I could just spew out a few thousand words just by sitting in front of a computer and idly typing.
Where do I start?
A ha! My notes! My fabulous notes! This is where inspiration is stored when you’re out and about, or cooking dinner for the multitudes and this where the seedlings of my mighty oaks have been sown. So you look back at your notes and you have things written like, “Could an old woman really live in a shoe?” and “Would an Irish Setter have an Irish accent if it could speak?”
Hmm, not exactly the seeds of ‘Catcher in the Rye’.
Many writers over the years have despaired over the lost notes, the forgotten inspiration that would have been their masterpiece. Hunter S. Thompson documents the flip-side of this when he awakens from one of his archetypal stuporous episodes and reads through his notes that he had taken following a mescaline, booze and acid fuelled night. “Kill the mind and the body will follow” he darkly muses, what could this mean? He never found out and one can only wonder at the magnificence of the scribbling that never even made it through his weird and twisted nights.
This goes to show that inspiration can strike at any point and you should be ever ready, ever vigilant. Your notebook or note taking device should never be more than a reach away. The snatched conversations you hear at lunch could be the missing dialogue you’ve been waiting for for the last year. The idle, lazy advertising copy that you hypnotically stare at on the train could be the words that inspire your first viral post. The fortune cookie could be the first line of the book that features on Oprah’s reading list. And why is this so? It’s because inspiration comes not only from the big things it comes form the mundane, the revolting, the sick, the striking, the offensive, the weird, the unexpected, the lethargic, the, well, anything. What is it that the cartoon characters on the cereal box say? What did your first child unexpectedly say as he toddled off to school? What does the guy in the traffic jam look like and what is he saying in the protracted phone call he seems to be having? And why is that woman running and laughing through the rain when she clearly isn’t dressed for it?
When I realised that the inspiration for what I wanted to write was going to come from the things that were happening around me, the things I noticed and the experiences that I had, I kind of ‘switched on’. Suddenly I started to notice the most bizarre things like the nervousness of commuters around pigeons and the choatic effect that a sudden downpour will have on the unsuspecting (it’s great, it’s like someone shouted ‘INCOMING!’) Life, no matter how mundane it may seem is full of the intricacies, and it is here that you will find gold.
Here is a quick example of charming dialogue. This is a verbatim conversation I heard between two cleaners. The first cleaner was a young English girl with a slow London accent that sounded like she was considering every word as it left her mouth. I’m being slightly charitable as she was obviously quite dim. The other cleaner was a bored and disinterested Polish girl probably wondering why she was not using her degree in Astrophysics.
English Cleaner: “There’s a shop in Isleworth that sells nothing but Polish goods you know.”
Polish Cleaner (very disinterested): “Oh. Really?”
EC: “Yeah.” There was a VERY LONG PAUSE and then she said, “Devon is the best place in Britain to buy Cheese. There’s LOADS of farmland there so it’s very pure.”
EC: “I don’t like MANY cheeses, but I do like Cheddar, our National cheese, and Philadelphia.”
EC: “They brought cheeses from around the World to my school once and there’s this one cheese that has GREEN bits in it!”
EC: “YEAH! I refused to eat it. I do like Cheddar though as it is, as I say, our National cheese.”
I was furiously writing this down as I listened from my workdesk whilst almost crying with laughter. Mundane? Yes, probably.
The start of an Alan Bennett screenplay, who knows?