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9.29.2010

On Finding Inspiration

I'm teaching a creative writing course for the first time since I moved from Oregon to Florida. It strikes me as humorous that in the last two or three years I've learned more about the writing process than I ever could effectively articulate back in the first part of the decade, and yet I'm less equipped to discuss how to "make" a decent story. The more I write, the more I recognize that the process is simply organic, and any approach to segmentation (that incremental approach almost universally endemic to American higher education) likely leads to mental constipation.

I'm using Shaping the Story and Jeffrey Ford's The Drowned Life as texts. I've fashioned the course, as was my custom in Oregon, into what I hope will be a rigorous workshop. Write, read, revise...repeat. That said, I like to look at interesting stories for inspiration (hence The Drowned Life) and I like a clear discussion of narrative theory (Shaping the Story). We'll season our discussion with a few snippets from Stephen King's fine text On Writing.

There's a passage in On Writing in which King, pretty humorously, cites a number of stories that inspired him to write--not because they were great stories, but because they were so astoundingly poor that King found himself thinking Hell, I could do better than this!

Those moments of epiphany have been happening for me a lot lately, only mine have been the antithesis of what King is saying. Peter Beagle, Laird Barron and Jeff Ford are the kind of writers whose work I'd love to place a story next to, simply because their work leaves an echo. It leaves a bruise, in some cases. When I read these guys, I get anxious to get to the keyboard.

The same thing happened to me when I was a kid and I read C.S. Lewis. My mom gave me an old typewriter way back then, when we were living over on Scotland Road in Pueblo, Colorado. It had a mostly dry ribbon that, when I really got to banging on that sucker, would suddenly clinch up. I had to straighten that thing out over and over again, until it would look like I'd just left central booking when I was done working on a story. Those were the days of perfectionism, so the pages were always covered with whiteout. I was a little OCD that way.

And I absolutely adored The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. That book really got to me; I internalized the plot and tried to capture the voice and I started my very own rip-off, only my kids found an enchanted chest with a set of stairs beneath the blankets.

The story was bad, but you couldn't have told me that. The story's quality simply didn't matter. When I was writing it, I felt the juices pumping. I felt the story, no matter how derivative (a word I probably won't know or understand until my fiftieth year in the world), was golden, and that I was born to give it life.

I mention this because I think we need to capture that sense of inspiration this week. It's all about possibility. We need to, as a group, get jazzed about building worlds. We'll do the theory and we'll read the stories; we'll study the structure and we'll work with postulates.

But more than anything, we just need to do justice to that age-old phrase: I have a story to tell you...

2 comments:

Karen from Mentor said...

"The more I write, the more I recognize that the process is simply organic, and any approach to segmentation (that incremental approach almost universally endemic to American higher education) likely leads to mental constipation."

Oh my gosh stand on a giant mountaintop and shout that to all the writers who AGONIZE over their writing. Writing is a joy, a gift, a stunning energetic connection between muse and human. When it flows it's magic. When it doesn't....go out and hug trees.

Great post Daniel.
:0)

Daniel W. Powell said...

Hi Karen,

Thanks for dropping by, and for the kind words. I find that the better I get at telling a story, the less I have to say about how it happened. And I agree with you on the agony sentiment. If it's not enjoyable, it might not be the right outlet...

Hope all is well.