Everything is Material
I’m reading Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott, and this quote rang true enough I had to jump up and write about it.
So much of writing is about sitting down and doing it every day, and so much of it is about getting into the custom of taking in everything that comes along, seeing it all as grist for the mill.
Everything is material. Every person I know, every song I’ve ever heard, the linoleum in my Aunt Sharon’s kitchen, the woods, the creek, and the drainage ditch that ran under the road by the country house I lived in as a child.
I had a wonderful nightmare a couple weeks ago, details forgotten until I got in the shower the morning after. I found myself eager to get clean, get dry, and write down every detail I could remember. That dream was a weird gift, and I smelled a story in there, somewhere.
I get most of my ideas in the shower, or just before I fall asleep. I like to think that’s when my underbrain is talking the loudest, and I’m always ready to listen. It’s not convenient, but I’m not complaining.
Last night before bed, a handful of details about a character in a story that’s been lurking in the back of my mind rose up, unbidden, welcome as an old friend. A window opening up into the life of a young boy, lonely, on his last day on earth.
I see this kid, this lonely little kid, riding the bus home one last time. I hear his conversation with the bus driver. I hear the panic in his mother’s voice when she realizes he’s not coming home that night, and maybe not ever again.
What I see isn’t a memory, not really. But it’s close. It’s a kissing cousin. The bus driver is the old, loud guy who drove the bus when I was this kid’s age. I recognize the kid’s shy, nervous smile, and a thousand other details. This kid reminds me of someone I care about, and I feel bad about what’s going to happen to him.
And underneath that, I get an idea what’s going to happen may not be so bad. Not in the long run. In the short run? Sure, absolutely. And I feel bad for his mom, I do. She doesn’t have other children, and her son’s disappearance ruins her marriage. But this story isn’t about her, even though I can see her path with perfect clarity.
I start with a plan, and I work from an outline, but I’m still just excavating. Digging, exploring, discovering what happens as I go along. That’s writing, baby.