Sunday, October 17, 2010


Inspiration is strange and, to me at least, unfathomable.

I had the morning to write and I wanted to work on a piece for my next MFA residency. I knew that I wanted to write a short about a character I've been thinking about a lot lately (I almost wrote "a character that's been plaguing me lately" since that's what it feels like. I just can't get the guy out of my head). But knowing that, I had no idea what I wanted the story to be about. This seems to happen to me all the time and it's a major source of frustration.

One of the main influences for this character is Lawrence Block's "Scudder" books, which feature his private detective, Matthew Scudder. I decided to read a few Scudder short stories for inspiration. After I got to spent half an hour with a character I really like, I sat down and tried to map out a story for my own character.

About twenty minutes of staring at my fellow coffee shop patrons ensued before I actually got to writing. Starting with a blank page, I wrote down the first image in my head and just kept going. In bullet list style, I wrote out the broad action of the thing and some minor scraps of dialog. Then I moved on to flesh it out with an outline. (Yes, I outlined a short story. Why are you looking at me like that?)

When I was done, I had something that didn't look at all like a Scudder story, but I know, somehow, that the story I'd produced came about because I'd been thinking about Block's character and because I'd read those short stories before I began. I wish that my own creative process was a bit more transparent to me. I feel like my brain is a delicate engine, for which I never received an owner's manual. And I have to do everything I can to keep the damn thing working. I never know what will get the engine started, and I never know what will make it go completely haywire. It's very frustrating, my brain.

Regardless, I'm looking forward to now writing this story. And having it savaged in workshop...

The image, by the way, comes from Doug Savage's collection of sticky note cartoons.

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