Monday, July 26, 2021

The Stories I Will Never Write


As writers, we like to say the hardest part about writing is getting started. Other people might think it’s because we’re out of ideas, that the well is dry. We are Mort Rainey in the beginning of Secret Window before (spoiler) he does some weird shit with corn.

I won’t lie, part of it—a big part—is distraction. It’s almost cruel that the machine that helps us write words faster is the same machine that gives us access to mindless games, videos, and Buzzfeed quizzes. But even the most distractable of us can only watch so many videos of people falling down before we wander grudgingly back to our work-in-progress.

Neil Gaiman once said that everyone is always having ideas, but a writer is a writer because she recognizes when she’s doing it.

I think he’s partly right. I think there’s a small part of our brains that lights up when a passing thought is more than a passing thought. The cogs start to whir, and we get that far-off look in our eyes, the one that makes our significant others, families, and friends concerned we’re having a stroke. Then, not unlike an instance of painful gas, it passes.

Except sometimes, it doesn’t.

Sometimes that passing thought is enough to make me dig through my purse for a receipt and a pen (because though I own more than a dozen tiny notebooks purchased specifically for instances like this, they somehow never end up where they’re supposed to be) and scribble down what I can before the light dims. They’re good, these ideas, really good. I smirk to myself as I write a line of dialogue or a quirky personality trait, and it’s like I can see the story spread out in front of me like the road I’m supposed to be paying attention to. It’s clear and right and if only I had more paper I could get more of this down and then—and then!—I would write this story.

You’ve probably already guessed that I don’t, in fact, write those stories. Those sharp pricks of inspiration, here and gone as quick as you like, aren’t the jab of mojo I think they are.

But aren’t these flashes, these self-congratulatory sparks, the things we’re supposed to be on the look out for? Were we lied to?

I have a theory.

Inspiration as we’ve been taught to view it isn’t inspiration at all. Inspiration—the spark, the clear vision, the rush to the desk, pen in hand—isn’t a call to adventure. It’s more like an inside joke.

Stick with me. It’ll make sense. Probably.

You know that face you make when inspiration strikes? When you get an idea? How the corner of your mouth twitches upward into a conspiratorial half-smile? That’s not a Eureka face. That’s a remember-that-time? face. It’s the face you make when you remember a bit of trouble you got into (and, really, aren’t all stories about a bit of trouble you once got into?) These moments of “inspiration” never come to fruition. Why? Because, in our minds—in my mind—it’s already happened. I see the story clearly because, in a deep corner of my mind, I’m remembering the story. And, as we all know from sitting around a Thanksgiving dinner table with chatty Uncle Ron after he’s had a few, a story re-told out of nostalgia carries the weight of “You had to be there.”

The receipts get thrown away, the spark dissipates. More wasted ideas, you think.

But an idea is never wasted. It sits in the back of your mind with all the others, a campfire of little sparks. And when the flames burned down and all that’s left are the embers, one will roll away, warm and glowing. You’ll carefully pick it up, examine it, and find something new. A story you’ve never told yourself. Yet.   

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