Many of the writer’s reference books I read frequently now suggest that every serious writer should be gathering ideas for stories nearly all the time. The authors of these books say that inspiration can strike nearly anywhere, and at nearly anytime. We should be ready to receive this spark when it happens, since the same idea might never visit us again.
Some of the books even offer methods for encouraging the muse to come and sit on one’s shoulder, murmuring in the ear of the would-be-novelist as she meditates in the living room, takes a long soak in the tub, or sits idling in traffic on her long commute back home from work.
I’ve always had ideas come to me while communing with Nature. A leisurely walk in the park will surely trigger a flash or two of insight, as well as biking, walking, kayaking, or just sitting quietly on the back porch while the breeze blows through the trees and the birds sing me into a nap with their happy little songs.
Such was the case today while I was outside for several hours, engaged in the intensely laborious task of mowing my weeds. I have about an acre and a half, much of which could be categorized as mangy and feral. I had actually lived on my property for several years before stepping foot on much of it, some areas so thick with trees, bushes, brambles, and thorny things, that I was simply unable to penetrate there. A few years ago, I was motivated to clear some paths. This is an excerpt from a post I made on this blog in October 2016 titled Backyard Playground (my daughter came up with the trail names):
“It is only very recently that I set foot on parts of my own property, simply by deciding that I would cut through the undergrowth (along with the overgrowth and middlegrowth, if those terms can properly describe the thick mass of vegetation that crept and hung and tangled its way across my path from head to toe). Now, after several weekends of effort, we have forged, for our walking pleasure, trails with the following names…Deer Run, Walking Stick, Three Sentinels, Armadillo Hideaway, Picky Vine, Knife Fork and Spoon, Brown Bench, and one or two more. I blazed two of the last ones today (Sunday), before deciding that the look and feel of the place is just about right for now.”
Hurricane Michael roared through our neighborhood two years later, and it is only just now, in April of 2019 (six full months after the life-altering destruction) that I have ventured back onto my trails to clear them out once again. The task has been anything but easy.
But let’s not get side-tracked. We’re talking about inspiration here, and not the kind that drives a person to wage war against jungles that spring up on the sides of country roads, but the stuff that drives writers to create best-selling novels.
There was an episode today, and a comical one at that, during which I stepped into a hole about a foot deep, knocking myself off balance. Skittering sideways, I crashed into the stump of one of the trees that had probably been laid low by the storm. My ribs took the brunt of the impact, causing me to relinquish my grip on the handle of the mower I had been using to gain some leverage against the fall. On my way down, and with the handle of the mower now on its way up, I got cracked on the chin with an upper cut that caused my teeth to clap together, forcing me to call out in pain. The mower having gone silent, suddenly I was surrounded by the buzz of nature. My head felt full as I lay there on the ground, wincing at the abruptness of it all, thankful I wasn’t hurt too badly, surprised that I was on the verge of laughter.
I read somewhere that Mike Tyson once said, “Everybody’s got a plan until they get punched in the face.” In that moment, Mike seemed very wise to me.
In the meantime, I had knocked my glasses off, and was unable to find them, try as I might. As I hoofed it back to the house to ask for my wife’s assistance (and who would surely have something to say about my ongoing habit for inflicting physical pain on myself for no apparent reason), I realized something rather happily. I had come up with an idea for a story! My altered view of Nature, blurry in the extreme, made me realize that I, my house, the paths I had re-established, and everything all around this quaint little rural scene was constantly and steadily being inundated with green. If I did nothing to keep it all pushed back, in a year the house would be impinged upon by the foliage. By three, it would be half-overtaken. In five to seven, the structure would be well on its way to being overrun by the rightful earth-bound dwellers of the place.
And thus came about my inspiration for my latest apocalyptic story – “Creaking.” Humanity is going to be done in by Nature, and it will be at the hand of the foliage Mother sends to do her dirty work. I can’t begin to tell you how many ideas came swirling into my brain as a result of this very temporary stroll down my walkway, surrounded by these great big blobs of green, clumped together and coming at me from above, below, and every side. In this cheerful little tale, Gaia will rid herself of at least a size-able portion of her most invasive species-us. It will be a real mind-bender. I’m laying out the plot lines as we speak.
Look for inspiration. Write down your ideas as they come to you. Be on the look out no matter where you are or what you are doing. Keep the best ones. Develop one or two. Make them into something beyond just a quick moment of inspiration that you just as quickly forget. These lightbulb moments came to you for a reason. Honor them by paying attention and exploring where they might take you next.
This is all the difference between those who write and those who dream about writing. Make it happen!