Thursday, September 27, 2007

Where do you find inspiration?

After leaving the service and armed with the G.I. bill, I lived in a small college town for four years while pursuing my degree in English. I had selected a creative writing course for the fall term. I wanted to get a head start on my coursework, so I decided to write a few short stories during a three week period between the end of summer and beginning of fall. Splat. The brain froze at the moment of need. I needed to do something radical.

Over breakfast one morning in a local diner, I heard someone lament, "The most exciting thing in this town is watching the light change." Yeah, it's a cliche of sorts, and we did have only one light, and when schools out, there isn't much to do in a dry town in a dry county in which there are more deer than people. So I decided to test the theory. I would spend 24 hours watching the light change.

I reasoned it would be best to start in the late afternoon after rising at noon which was par for the course in the summer. Watching the light change from my post on the only bench downtown turned out to be a rewarding experience. I was harassed by a cop several times for being a vagrant (I wasn't because I had money on me). I got propositioned three times (only one seemed remotely legitimate--the other two would probably be passed out before we got anywhere--a dry town and dry county doesn't mean there wasn't alcohol). I got four items thrown at me (a beer can, empty cup of coffee, wad of paper, and a light bulb--maybe it was Diogenes' cousin). It is colder than you might think in northern Pennsylvania in mid-August in the middle of the night.

3:30 a.m. is the dead of night not midnight. At 3:30 a.m. all the drunks have made it home or have driven off the sides of the mountains and those early-bird workers haven't hit the streets yet. I saw two fender-benders, lots of trucks at night (I was surprised), a Model-T, two corvettes, had various people sit with me, but none for more than an hour (wussies), and had some woman very concerned about my mental state tempting me with chocolate cookies to come into the small downtown clinic. I was able to snatch two cookies without going in. Animals are about more than we realize, and at 4 a.m. a deer jaywalked from behind a closed frat house across the main road and through the Mr. Donuts parking lot without pausing to look both ways. She stood by a dumpster for a few minutes. Disgusted that there were no leftovers, she kicked the refuse container and left.

Did it inspire some great stories? Not until years later, but I did get an "A" in the class, primarily on the strength of my story, "I've Got Them Old Lovesick Cafeteria Blues Again".

A female townie thought what I was doing was bold, cool, daring, and I even remember a few "far outs". My last few summer nights turned out to be exceptionally exciting, and I did learn that watching the light change wasn't the most exciting thing in my small college town.
So where do you find inspiration?


Anonymous said...

My inspiration comes from keeping my mouth shut. I listen to other people tell me stories.

Paul Lamb said...

I don't think I get inspiration, at least not the sudden lights on kind. I've found that I use the cluster method for creating. I have several plots or character ideas in my head all of the time. As ideas, experiences, or overheard conversations come along, I usually try to see where they fit among the plots and characters I'm mentally juggling. Eventually something attains enough bulk to be worth writing down and toying with as a story.

I suspect this is from my journal-keeping decades. It's just the frame of mind I have. Slow but steady and productive.