Writing Inspired By Experience
My niece Wendi is our family genealogist, mapping our familial history through the few remaining documents and traces of existence that verify and preserve their lives and experiences. Few of them created these scraps of evidential living with the intent to let others know how they lived, what their motivations and inspirations might have been, or with any thought at all that anyone would even care about them long after they were gone.
I look at these letters and photos and want to know so much more. I want to read their stories, hear their voices, know them as the individuals they were—in general as well as on the day they wrote that letter or posed for that picture.
I look at pictures like the one here and feel compelled to share stories. This is my niece Wendi with me, riding the chariots on fire at the now defunct Enchanted Forest in Ellicott City, MD USA. This picture was taken in 1972.
Just from that little bit of information, I am inspired to write about any of the following:
- Wendi and I grew up as friends as much as we did relatives. With only 4 years between us in age, we experienced a lot of the same things growing up. Our relationship today is grounded firmly in memories of red pistachios, riding around in a ’68 Ford Falcon, and growing up with our fathers and brothers putting their lives on the line fighting fire.
- The Enchanted Forest is long gone, but I now teach just a mile away from where this picture was taken. Every day, I pass by the big iron entrance gates that we would ceremoniously walk through (all that remains at the original site), leaving behind a boring childhood and entering an enchanting world of fantasy and possibility. Every day I enter my school, I wonder if I can offer my own students the same opportunities.
- Less than a month after this picture was taken, Hurricane Agnes ripped through the Chesapeake Bay region and central Maryland. The floods killed my two neighbors who attempted to swim in the rapid waters of our local reservoir. The date the hurricane hit—June 13— is the same date my daughter was born, 24 years later.
Now, from just these three points, I could pull another three inspired stories from each. Every story would be both inspiring and even a little therapeutic to write about.
I can do this, simply because I know these words are for my eyes only. I might share one of these pieces via publication. I might not. That’s my choice entirely, though; I am always in control.
Set aside an hour or two and go through some old photos (hard copy or digital) and brainstorm a list of possible memories associated with those pictures. Which of these are you inspired to write about in your daybook or journal?
Once you find a picture you want to write about, set aside a good 15-20 minutes and write without inhibition. Do not worry about spelling, punctuation, or grammar. You have the all-powerful creative license to take risks, experiment with words, and paint pictures. Bring those memories alive for you, and let go of the worries and concerns about what others may think!