Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Story Supplies

I have been blessed in my life to be surrounded by many amazing artists of one variety or other. One of those artists was Lew Alquist, a renowned late 20th century American sculptor and the husband of my friend Jane Pleak, a well-known artist herself in the ceramics world. Lew went to that big artist’s studio in the sky in early 2005, but as all good artists do, he left us not only art, but also wisdom.


On New Year’s Eve 2003, several of us sat around Jane’s kitchen table decorating cookies and talking about art. We made up pen names for my as yet unrealized romance novel career, and we talked about inspiration. Lew said, as he often did, that “everything is not art, but everything is art supplies.” When I helped sort out his Arizona studio in 2005, I found that he meant just that as we decided what to do with cases upon cases of things like stainless steel specula (yes, those are what you think they are), bolts of every size and most anything else he could find for a deal at a state surplus auction.


All right, you’re thinking, this is a fine story, but what does it have to do with writing? So, I’ll tell you. Everything is not a story, but everything is story supplies. We are asked time and again where we get inspiration, how we decide what to write about, how we know something is worth writing about. The answer to that, I find, is inspiration is everywhere in everything.


Often, the things I write about aren’t things I decide to write about consciously, but rather, images or ideas that refuse to go away until I write them down. Anything you can’t shake is worth writing about. An event that makes you feel something is worth writing about, at least in some form. Everything is not a story, but everything is a story supply—a detail that makes fiction seem truer and truth more real, a piece of overheard conversation that starts your mind racing into a whole other world, a picture you see every time you close your eyes.


Pay attention to the world around you; it’s all fair game.


So, y’all start gathering your supplies. It’s time to write.

6 comments:

Susanna Ives said...

Great post. "Often, the things I write about aren’t things I decide to write about consciously, but rather, images or ideas that refuse to go away until I write them down."

I love how my mind opens up like a old trunk on the page, filled with old photographs, programs of some graduation, pressed flowers, maybe a favorite shirt or dress.

I often follow Annie Lamott's advice to just write everything, censor nothing, and see what comes out. What is the true story in the story you are trying to write.

Art supplies...

Tina said...

I have always found it the strangest question, the old "where do you get your ideas?" one. The only correct answer -- "everywhere" -- feels like a smart-aleckly comeback. And yet it's the truth.

I think i am going to go through this day with this metaphor. Art supplies. Here a brush, here a daub of paint, here a shiny border and some glue.

You've also proven one of my other firmly held beliefs -- that the best things in life happen over cookies.

Tina said...

Plus, I really want to hear some of those romance writer pen names one day!

Laura Valeri said...

We are the great recycling bins. Everything and anything is material.

Laura Valeri said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Liz Fichera said...

Beautiful post. I've often found inspiration in snippets from songs, even in the melodies. BTW, are you in Arizona? I live in Phoenix.