When Inspiration Strikes It’s Best to be Prepared by David Niall Wilson Sometimes you get images that stick. It’s a good idea to write them down, even if you can’t currently pry yourself from life or leisure long enough to put them to proper use, or to complete them. I’ve been toying with the sadness of Greyhound stations, the way they seem to suck in people with no real place to go, the poor, those whose loves or lives are in tatters — people giving up and going back, and people hoping that something at the other end of a bouncing, lonely ride might be better. Anyway, this train of thought started me thinking about inspiration, how it comes at the oddest moments, and what you can do to preserver those moments so that when you desperately need the shot in the arm they provide, they are ready to hand.There are a lot of ways you can accomplish this. I know people who still carry the old spiral notebooks, or small pads of paper with them at all times, and keep them by the bedside. I have one friend who has a digital audio recorder attached to his belt. I have one of those, Trish bought it for me because I thought it would be a good way to capture things as I drove. I used it for a while, but it turned out to be a detriment to my driving, and so I let it go. I’m not a proponent of talking on the phone, doing makeup, or otherwise engaging in extra-curricular activities while behind the wheel, so I opted not to become part of that particular problem.My own solution is to worry over the idea in my head until I get to a keyboard, or a notebook, and then to write something down. It’s usually not good enough for me to just write a single-sentence idea, or words to remind me of what I was thinking. I’ve done that and come back later to stare fruitlessly at what I wrote, absolutely unable to make sense of it. Instead, what I do is that I put the image to use. I write small snippets of things that may, or may not ever see the light of day, but that capture the thing that is bothering me, eating at me, or otherwise making a mental nuisance of itself.
As an example, I present an excerpt from nothing in particular involving my current obsession with the Greyhound station – a disembodied paragraph or two that might have been scribbled in a bus station, or on the napkin at a Denny’s in Hoboken, left behind to be swept up when the bus-boys come through…
“James slouched down the sidewalk with one shoulder to the grimy wall and the other tucked in close. His tattered sea bag curled across his back like a hump, and his long hair clung to the top of it, spreading out like crusty seaweed. Ahead, the glow of the Greyhound terminal leaked into the night, dragging him onward.
James hated bus stations. They were too bright. The lights illuminated the grime and stains of the ages. Emotions, trapped for eternity, oozed from the walls. The grey dog was the chosen transport of the damned, and their legacy etched itself into each terminal and was ground into the asphalt outside the gray, filthy glass doors. Winos gathered at shrines like these, toasting the lost and the lonely, those looking for things they’d never find and leaving things they’d never forget.
The wind pressed into his back, spitting him from the city and into the maw of the future without regret. ”
I have that now. I don’t know if I’ll ever use it, but I know that it captures (somewhat) the thoughts I’ve been chewing and trying to digest, and it allows me to save it to the “idea file” and move on to the next mental obsession. I have a folder on my computer filled with things like this. Back in the day, I had a file folder with clippings, hand-written notes, and print-outs of just this sort of thing. I also had / have a list of titles that have occurred to me that started as just that – words with no story behind them, like “A Plethora of Penguins,” and “The Fall of the House of Escher.” Some of these (the latter is one such) became stories along the way. Perusing that list while seeking inspiration for a themed anthology has saved me more than once, and at least once I took one of the snippets like the Greyhound “clip” above and it became a novel – that was my most recent book, “Ancient Eyes.” The snippet I began with was something I wrote down after watching the movie “Next of Kin,” with Patrick Swayze and Liam Nisson. I never know when, or if I’ll make use of them, but I save them slavishly.
One day on the way to work I saw a truck loaded up with cars that had been compressed into cubes. I started wondering just what might have been crushed along with the upholstery, electronics, and engine.
One day a man passed me in a car with eighteen colors of primer – two windows covered with plastic and duct-tape, one big black boot propped up and out the window, slouched down and driving crazily. I recorded it as I remembered it the moment I reached my office.
There is a house along my drive to work where, in the summer, vines grow up a power pole and stretch out along the metal cord that braces the wood and holds it upright, as well as along the line leading to the house. It’s a solitary home, standing beside a cotton field in the middle of nowhere. When the vines grow in full, it looks exactly as if there is a large woman pointing an accusing finger straight at that place, and it stays that way all summer.
Another pole, further down, grows broad shoulders and, at dusk, looks like Bigfoot.
What if a Mastodon was discovered frozen in the ice – and when they managed to chip it out and study it, they found a bullet in its heart?
What if a hurricane disappeared into the Bermuda Triangle? What then, word man? What then?
I’ll leave you with another possible method of storing these ideas, a thing I’ve been trying for a few weeks now. I’ve been writing tiny flash-fiction stories that capture inspirations and actually give them (for what it’s worth) a modicum of closure. These short shorts I’m writing are born of single words …the title of this was
She was sure that he’d follow her. When she told him that it was up to him, that if she walked out that door, she wouldn’t come back, she thought it would be just like every other time. They would argue. They would fight. They would tangle themselves in the sheets and stick together for hours and wake up wrapped around one another at the beginning of a new day.The door closed behind her with a snap, and he didn’t follow.She made it to the elevator and hesitated, watching the door, sure he’d open it and follow.Nothing. The elevator doors slid shut slowly and, numb, she pressed the button for the lobby.
* * *
He hit the stairs running. He’d waited until she was out of site, indifference painted on his face like a mask. He’d barely held it in; the hurt in her had eyes floored him. Still, he wanted this time to be something more – a turning point after which they saw how bad things could become, and the fights ceased. He ran, but halfway down, he tripped. It was a stupid misstep. He hit the wall hard on his shoulder, screamed, and staggered to his feet. He turned and stumbled down, but too slowly now. He’d have to catch her on the street…he thought his arm might be broken. His heart felt the same.
* * *
She stepped out into the lobby. It was empty. She pushed her way through the door without looking back, blind with tears and unable to think. She stepped into the street and stopped.
The bus did not stop.
* * *
As he hit the lobby, he heard the sirens.