“Writer’s Inspiration” – how it happens

A working writer of any kind (technical, marketing, short story, historian, etc.) can’t “wait for inspiration to strike”. Nope, if you’re a working writer, you’ve got to choose your story, sit your butt down in a chair, open up the computer, and get to work.

For all of that hard work, your first draft will probably be mostly crap.

But somewhere in that draft (or in the next or in next, next draft), because you did sit your butt down in a chair and get to work, you might be inspired. You’ll start to tingle, because you’ve come across something that’s so right for you. You might even have a hard time breathing, because, dayum, that something sure is thrilling.

But to get that thrill, you’ve gotta work for it. And here’s how I did it recently.

My husband and I went on a road trip. California to Nevada. Through Utah and Wyoming. Into South Dakota. Back to Wyoming and into Montana. Crossing Idaho and lingering in Seattle. Down Highway 101 to Oregon (loved you, Florence!) and back home to California.

Since this was a vacation, I was not going to write or edit any of my own fiction. I was only going to read three or four novels that I had lined up on my Kindle.

As we traveled along Highway 80 from California to Nevada and we passed Donner Summit, my thoughts lingered on the horrible true story of the Donner Party, those pioneers who–when confronted by the harsh winter of 1846–47–ate each other. Or as Wikipedia writes “Some of the pioneers resorted to cannibalism to survive.”

I began to wonder about the men and women who “resorted to cannibalism”. Specifically, I began to wonder about Mrs. Donner, although I didn’t know if there even was a Mrs. Donner. Or if there were several Mrs. Donners, or if there was only a Miss Donner.

Donner Pass, 1870s, via Wikipedia

I began to wonder…What if Mrs. Donner was ready to resort to cannibalism, and not just to keep herself and her family alive? What if during the wagon trip, she had been fighting with other women and she had been wishing them dead for weeks?  Was there a new interpretation, a new way of looking at the historical character of Mrs. Donner that I could work on? Was there a quick-flash-of-unexpected-character-thing that was dramatic enough for a 100-word short short story? (Keep in mind: I still don’t know if Mrs. Donner existed during the winter of 1846-47, so please understand that I’m taking a short story writer’s dramatic point of view rather than a historian’s accurate point of view.)

And so I mused on Mrs. Donner for a while, even creating a few titles for the short story I might write. Which I’ve already forgotten.

I enjoyed musing on Mrs. Donner so much that I decided that on each day of our vacation, I would muse on another historical American woman, one specifically drawn from the locations that we travelled each day. So in Utah, I thought about Mrs. Smith or Mrs. Young and what their untold-and-dramatic stories might be.

My musing continued until we reached Cody, Wyoming, where–since every day of my vacation I had been musing about American women of the historical west–I was rewarded with INSPIRATION.

It happened at the most unexpected location ever: the Cody Dug Up Gun Museum. Which is a blog post for another day.

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