3 armed men and a story

Late one night, in a hotel somewhere in Europe, I was watching the only channel that has programming in English.  I only watch television when I’m travelling, away from chores, clients on the other side of the world and wonderful warm family distractions; I put on the television, for company!

Usually I end up hearing the news repeated again and again.  Occasionally a gem shows up.  This was one of those nights.  It was a rare interview with JK Rowling and one story made a huge impression on me. 

She told the story of a reading where a little girl asked her the question, “do you only write when you are inspired?”  JK Rowling replied that if she were to wait for inspiration, she would have only written about 9 pages by now.

This was such a huge revelation for me.  As someone who more often than not, writes by deadline, it gave me some consolation.  I’m not the only person putting pen to paper, or at least fingers to keyboard, without some angelic muse influencing my every thought.

So what do we need to be inspired?

What gives us that energy and focus to get the job done?

This week I read Etgar Keret’s brilliant short story ‘Suddenly a Knock on the Door’ (catch the NYTimes review here.) 

The story is about how three armed men hold a writer named Keret hostage and demand that he tell them a story. Keret (the character) offers them a nervous description of what’s going on at that moment. “That’s not a story,” one of his assailants protests. “That’s an eyewitness report. It’s exactly what’s happening here right now. Exactly what we’re trying to run away from. Don’t you go and dump reality on us like a garbage truck. Use your imagination, man, create, invent, take it all the way.”

So what exactly do we need to ‘take it all the way’?  Where does inspiration live?  Do we need three armed men to keep us hostage?  Or a simple deadline?

I suspect the answer is different for everyone.  I know that for me, nothing works better than a firm commitment to ‘getting it out’ at a specific time or date.  But this alone is not enough. 

I need a simple idea.  A hook.  An image or a person.  I need the tiniest inkling of the start of a story. 

I also need a message that resonates for me; a message that I connect to because it speaks to the real me, the person that lives my whole life – my work, my love, my family, my challenges.  Now not necessarily to all of them at the same time, but at least one of them for sure!

And you know, I collect these story hints all the time.

No, it’s not a journal or even a notebook (though it probably should be!).  It’s just a noticing, a way of observing the world and my life in it.  At any given moment, I will make note of the hint of a story. 

It’s usually in quieter moments, when I’m walking my dog, hanging the laundry or cooking.  But sometimes it just shoots by and I have to grab out and catch it.

Then I store it away like an itch that needs to be scratched.

Later, when the time comes and I need to write, I look for the itches, the story hints and start to write.

So, how about you?

What inspires you?

Share your tips below!

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4 comments on “3 armed men and a story

  1. Greetings Lisa,

    I’m going to make a case for carrying a notebook, or maybe 3 x 5 cards, and pen around with you.

    The American Writers & Artists, Joe Vitale and countless authors recommend this. I like Joe’s metaphor: Ideas and inspirations are like slippery fish, spear them with a pen and get them down on paper before they slip away.

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