What inspires a writer to write?
Recently I attended the Pee Dee Fiction and Poetry Festival held on the beautiful campus of Francis Marion University in Florence, SC with Kim Blum-Hyclak and Betty Wilson Beamguard. Amy Bloom, novelist; Patricia Smith, poet; Michael Chitwood, poet; and Daniel Woodrell, novelist fielded questions from faculty and students. One of the first questions was where did the inspiration for the story/poem/novel come from?
For Patricia Smith, author of the award winning poetry collection, Blood Dazzler, poems about Hurricane Katrina, New Orleans, and the aftermath, news reports were essential. Her husband worked with Associated Press and read news reports and saw astonishing photos that did not appear on the evening news. The inspiration for one of the poems in the collection was her own experiences visiting an aunt who was in a nursing home.
Amy Bloom, author of several novels and a collection of short stories entitled Where the God of Love Hangs Out, said news articles also inspire her. She read about a prep school where a swatzika was carved into a locker. A 13-year-old girl was discovered to be the culprit. Amy’s daughter also attended the same school.
Michael Chitwood, award winning poet of The Weave Room, said his father worked in a textile mill. He talked about the how loud it was inside the mill. Listening to people’s colorful language also inspired his work. He heard someone say, “Boy, I’ll smack a fart out of you that’ll make you hum like a jar fly.”
Daniel Woodrell, author of several novels, including Winter’s Bone, which was made into a movie and won at the Sundance Film Festival in 2010, told how he saw a teenager in the grocery store with two younger siblings. It was obvious the teenager was acting as a mother-figure to the children. This observation led Woodrell to create the main character Ree Dolly in Winter’s Bone.
As the writers fielded the questions, I considered how I would answer. Here’s my personal list of things that inspire me:
1. Walking through an art gallery or museum, or viewing art work online. A picture entitled The Singing Butler sparked an idea for a short story.
2. Looking at photographs or family albums and listening to family stories can spark the imagination. My friend Kim Blum-Hyclak writes poems about people in photographs she finds in flea markets.
3. A road trip down country lanes exploring new territory or traveling old roads to forgotten places can spark the imagination as well. My friend Betty Wilson Beamguard wrote a novel entitled Weej and Johnnie Hit Florida about a fictional road trip.
4. Walking through a cemetery, just glancing at headstones, led the three of us to conjure up stories about the deceased. None of us have come up with a suitable story yet, but the ideas are percolating.
How about you? What inspires you to write?