The following was inspired by “On Keeping a Notebook” by Joan Didion for my English 404 Creative Nonfiction class.
I’ve been told that the inspiration for writing is everywhere. Just open your eyes, I’ve been directed. The person or object in front of you, even when it’s a computer screen or the view of the backyard through your office window. Look up in the sky like when you were a kid, and you stared out your bedroom window and conjured up images from the cumulous clouds above the Patterson Projects in the South Bronx. It doesn’t matter where it comes from as long as you write something. Oh, they’re very insistent. The inspiration is there and everywhere. I must open my eyes, ears, and mind to the possibilities.
For a long time, I couldn’t write a thing. Well, that’s not accurate. I could write a love letter, a script for a radio show, a television news report, a technical or policy paper, or maybe sneak in a poem or two. Still, these were either the duties of a job or some frivolous moment to fill while I waited for something more serious to come along. Filling time. That’s how I sometimes thought of creative writing. You know, the writing where you open your heart and soul and scream words onto a page until they click into moving pictures. Or, to put it another way, they can walk into living worlds and settle down to rest as long as they want.
A million other writers and I have said it before, writing, authentic writing that spills out honestly when you grab the courage to free yourself, and your soul will follow, is difficult. Almost impossible if you’re not honest with yourself. Writing on demand can seem easy when you’re just pecking away at the keys in the hopes that something comes out and all that seems to appear on the screen in front of you is gibberish that even your eyes can’t translate. But you did exercise your fingers and proved that you could type. Yeah, that’s one way of looking at it.
When I was a television reporter, and I had to crank out two-three scripts in the span of a couple of hours (without the aid of a computer or Grammarly), you had notes, and maybe you had a chance to watch the news film (probably not) or the video (doubtful). You had to tap your memory banks, write a story based on fact, make sure it made sense, and ensure that it weaved with the visual element into a minute-and-a-half report that was succinct and clear enough that someone at home would take that time to watch it. Not sure I would call it “creative writing,” but you did hope it moved someone’s feelings or mind an inch. This is before the internet when people did sit in front of a television at an appointed hour or at least had it playing in the background over dinner and watched and heard crime stories or scandals or some stimulating “if it bleeds, it leads” news report that had spun out of your electric typewriter only an hour before. My goal was, to tell the truth in the best way I knew how and my inspiration was the reality I had witnessed or at least gotten other witnesses to share their stories.
The Creative Writing I do in college is different and more challenging. Some people can do any number of processes, exercises, and techniques to get their creative juices started. I start writing simply enough. A title. A thought. An incident from my past. A word. A single word. What’s important is that I start typing. Type. Type. Type. Take a breath and then start typing again and be confident enough to ensure that a stream of sentences flows across the screen and that it makes some sense. Okay, maybe not at first. It’s my first write. Perhaps it will be gibberish at first. It’s a beginning.
Then, I go over it, the writing. Sometimes, I’ll study it on the screen, making immediate changes as I go along. Or maybe after the fourth or fifth versions (I’ve done upwards of twenty versions during the course of writing a piece), I’ll print it out and read it aloud, listening to the cadence of the words, the connection of those words, the specific words themselves, hoping that I’m not repeating the exact words, nouns, prepositions, adverbs, complex sentences that run into each other because I sometimes forget that there are such things as periods or commas or semi-colons. Grammar not being my strong suit sometimes. Always thinking what’s a better way to say something (Word Hippo is my thesaurus friend). To visualize it first and then splash it across the page so that whoever reads it stops for a moment to absorb it, to bring it into themselves and allow it to fill their head and soul with the music of the words and beauty of the picture that is flashing before their imaginations. That’s when you know. Yeah, it’s all good.
I don’t want to stop there. I want to be continuously inspired to make the words sing louder, and the picture is brighter, the colors forcing you to look at them while at the same time they burn into your very essence and your heart dances gleefully and more heartedly than the first time you read or heard my words.
There’s so much more to learn. To exercise my fingers across this page, to tap that thing inside all of us so that those unique words just come forward and wrap me and you in ecstasy.
Yeah, that would be good.