Some stories flash onto the screen through my fingers as though I am a conduit for their lightning. These are not reliable stories. It can be years in between lightning. But I want to tell stories more than once every three years. I get fidgety if I don’t.
Recently I took part in a competition (gentlemen’s agreement style, no prize but the works produced) to churn out fully written stories in the span of two days. One came easy, like lightning. Two were like dredging mud from the back of my brain. And two were like constructing lightning from the inside of a bottle.
Those last two worked. They had the spark of a lightning story, they read easy, but in the throws of writing I was a bit of a mess. Each story was written to a prompt (both to aid in story writing, and to show that each story was written whole cloth over the two days), and in my notes I had dashed off so many false starts that I can’t even decipher what I was thinking two weeks later.
But as I scribbled all my false starts, I tapped into old memories. When I was very small, the neighbor girl was the coolest person in the whole wide world, and she liked to play with Barbies. I did not, because I didn’t understand the rules to playing Barbies, but I wanted to play with her, so I ended up playing Ken most the time. Later on, I had a craft kit, and I made my own doll because I really wanted a figure from a Nintendo64 flight simulator that nobody else cared about, and there is no holding back a nine year old with a glue gun.
These memories collapsed into each other, and where I had nothing, memories bubbled into story.
It helped that I had been exercising the parts of my brain wired for story. The lightning I had constructed found a natural path toward character. Writing is one of those practices that from the outside looks the same at step one and at step 100, but oh man does that practice pay off.
And all this might seem common sense to anyone on step 101 of the never ending staircase to authorial perfection, but I am putting this here to remind myself that it is possible to conjure a story when it feels like there is nothing. Find your blank page and a pen, and fill it with nonsense. Somewhere, eventually, something will spark.