Time + inspiration = writing.
It’s a simple formula, A simple, impossible formula because often when there’s time, inspiration is fleeting OR inspiration strikes at the worst possible times. Sitting in the dentist’s chair with a mouth full of cotton balls. Driving up the freeway. Halfway through a dinner with friends.
Since time is often easier to control, I’ve focused much of my writing life on trying to find ways to jumpstart inspiration. As I teach, I also need to find ways to help students who are sitting at their desks staring at the wall with no clue what to do.
Enter a thrift store! In an ideal world, you can sneak off to a secondhand shop and walk around. Every single object has a story. Pick something up. Feel its weight. Look at the color. If you’re brave, take a good smell. What did this thing sitting in your hand go through before it landed on the island of misfit stuff. Better yet, grab a cart and toss it random items until you find yourself with a story. (No need to buy the objects unless you fall in love. But take a picture.)
Now if you’re a teacher wondering how to do this with a classroom and no Goodwill nearby, try this. Assign each student or group one of the following categories:
My first story came to me when I was about five years old, or at least that's how my family tells it. I wasn't a particularly talkative child, but I drew constantly and wrote words as best I could copy them from picture books. I was particularly fascinated with an old suitcase that had made the perilous journey to Russia with my parents in the 1970's during my father's research. Luggage that remained locked and was strictly off limits. (Pictured below is a stock photo. The original, I'm guessing, is living out it senior years in a landfill.)
Every morning I found an excuse to toddle by the suitcase. Sometimes I tapped it, expecting a tap back from the inside. Once, I'm embarrassed to say, I licked it. Gross. Often though I just stared at the suitcase, waiting for it to reveal its secrets to me until I realized months in that if I wanted a story from the scraps of leather and metal, I would have to make one myself.
clcccIn a write what you know moment, I decided that a teddy bear named Bumbersnip lived inside, that the suitcase was far roomier in than out, and that at night he lived a tumultuous and exciting life that would rival Toy Story far before Pixar was a gleam in anyone's eye. I also protected this story as secretively as I could. While I don't remember much of my early childhood, the stories are as clear as day in my head and should one day become a proper book if I manage through my hundreds of other ideas.
I don't think about Bumbersnip often, but I do think about why I started writing stories, because unlike many other failed hobbies - ballet, knitting, etc. - I stuck with it for decades, ultimately finding a profession that allowed me to help other people tell their stories. The truth of the matter is that telling stories releases a valve. It allows us to shuck off the pressures of daily life and walk into a space entirely of our own creation. In a story, we can:
Looking back, at five I desperately wanted to expand my world beyond the brick and mortar one I found myself in. That bruised and battered suitcase might not be the escape I wanted, but I could certainly live vicariously through a bear who used it as time machine, luxurious living conditions, and adventure transport all the same. My hope in starting this blog is that I can offer resources for teachers, students, or anyone who may want to tell a story with no idea where to start. Even veteran storytellers run dry of inspiration from time to time.
Feel free to use any of the resources I provide (for personal or education use only, please) and drop me a line if you have any questions or perhaps found your own suitcase and would like a little guidance on how to explore it.