I found it on the corner of a four-way intersection in my city. There’s a lake to my west, an on-ramp to an expressway to the north, and a gas station to the east. Near the lake, an ambulance was corralled in the parking lot. It’s a large lot, maybe sixty parking spots and a boat ramp leading into a nearby lake. The parking lot has a modest amount of trees. It’s relatively clean. But the sun is just barely coming up behind me and an ethereal orange halo is rising on the water.
I notice the ambulance right away. There’s nothing special about it; just the usual colors and lights and markings. But what strikes me is that it is idling alone. No firetruck nearby. No local law enforment. Just an idle ambulance in an empty parking lot on an early morning in September.
The story came to me almost at once. Or at least that’s how I remember it. It’s been a few years, but moments like these, as a writer, always seem to stand out in my memory. They feel like small bursts of fire, like at the end of a Roman Candle or a flare. And I get genuinely excited. I smile. I look around my car nervously for something to write with (which I never have, but always say I will get one day. This has been going on for over ten years. I still don’t have a notepad in my car. But I digress). I would call the story Gina, because that was the name of the girl in the ambulance. Don’t ask me why, because inspiration does not allow you to ask why. It only knows to come into your head like a bolt of lightning, and then leave just as quickly.
I wrote the story that afternoon, in one sitting. It follows the story of our young protagonist, Gina, as she responds to an accident near the lake. A woman has been badly hurt in an automobile accident. And as this woman holds on for dear life, she touches Gina and gives her insight into a possible outcome for her own life. An outcome that may lead to her own demise. SPOILERS: Gina listens to the dying womans advice and chooses not to get back into the ambulance as it leaves for the hosptal. As it pulls out onto the street, another car smashes into it at high speeds and both vehicles go up in a ball of flames. It’s not very long (or very good), but it works as a testament to following your muse, or inspiration, or whatever you wish to call it. Follow it to the end of the story. Or at least to the nearest notepad or voice recorder or court reporter who is willing to jot down notes for you. I joke, as most court reporters would be in court…reporting.
I’ve heard of writers who keep dream journals near their bed. A book that chronicles dreams, and nightmares, and any thoughts that pop up while we sleep. I’ve never tried one. I like to go back to sleep when I wake up in the middle of the night, but I have had many dreams that I wish I could remember. So maybe these writer folk are on to something. For those that do use one, it may help induce more connection with your own subconscious not only while sleeping, but also while you’re awake.Think of it as a green light for your brain to show you more of what is happening when you’re not distracted by all the noise of daily life.
I find inspiration to be a little startling sometimes. I write consistently, so I know my rhythm and my cadence. I know when I should stop (word count) or when I need to power through a scene just to get it out (verbal vomit). So, much like we know our own bodies when we start to get sick, I know when I need to shut up and let my mind take over. That thing writers talk about, where the characters were practically writing themselves. I have this happen almost every time I write a book. I love dialogue, but I don’t necessarily know what my characters are going to say until they say it. And sometimes I love watching the fireworks. I consider this to be inspiration as well. That moment when we have fully opened our mind to this craft. We have allowed ourselves to be used, with the words coming out of our fingers like so much energy. And those words, put onto the page, create the magic of a wonderful story.
I would love to hear about your stories of where and when you got inspired. What came of that inspiration? Did you store it away in your own version of a dream journal, or put it to paper and create a story? Did you listen to your muse?
Ass in the chair. Let’s get to work.