Tuesday, December 14, 2010

I Love the Smell of Inspiration in the Morning

The smell... You know that smell of old books? Smells like...a short story.

I've always heard it, how you'll be going about your business, and one day something smacks you across the face, giving you a story to tell where once there was none. Ah, inspiration. I've written hundreds of thousands of words, had bursts of inspiration regarding stories I was already in the midst of telling, but altogether new stories just don't bloom that way for me.

I had a minor taste of it last year when my husband, who was fetching a late night snack from the grocery store, accidentally butt-dialed me. At first, all I could hear was NPR -- only, I didn't realize it was NPR. It sounded like my husband was discussing drugs, kidnapping, and smuggling with some woman. A Coen-esque short story bloomed from that, but I've never gone further than the outline.

Today, however, I was reading the blog of John Gall, the book designer who led the 30 Covers, 30 Days project for NaNoWriMo, and he had a link to this...

...an artist, Rachael Morrison, whose project is to go through MOMA and smell each and every one of their 300,000 books, cataloging their unique scent.


I LOVE old book smell. I worked at a circa-1970s library as a teenager, and every time someone would return a book from the much older main library downtown, I'd know immediately and snatch it up to hug it and breathe in its musty scent. Aromatherapy for the hopelessly insane.

I also have an odd love for lists and cataloging.

More than that, however, I could see a woman going about this job, ledger in hand, saw the story unfolding. It has nothing at all to do with the real woman, of course, or the MOMA's library, or anything else. But...ah... It became more difficult not to dive into a story than to put it off. So I wrote my first short story in at least a decade. I'm thrilled! And so grateful to Ms. Morrison and her eccentric art project!

Tell me I'll have this kind of flash again. Tell me where you find inspiration or the odd places it's found you, whether for writing or art or any sort of project.


  1. I find that if I start going through the motions of drawing, makeup, music, whatever- that my brain will jump start itself. Also, living in a thoroughly inspiring city helps. Maybe you should come visit. ;) PS... when do I get to read aforementioned short story?

  2. ...or just go to the beach. That's another one that always works for me.

  3. I find sitting outside on a spring day helps. Just the warm sun on my face and fresh air help. Reading also gives me inspiration. =)

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  4. I tell my kids short storys about my dog Elvis. In my mind he is a grand adventurer. Usually the kids will ask me if Elvis has ever skydived or climbed Mt Everest, and of course my answer is always yes. That leads to them asking me to tell them all about it. I then have to make it up on the spot. I think the one they love the best is about Elvis's Poodle running days when he used to head the Kansas City mob and run pink and purple poodles from the caves in Kansas City down across the border into Mexico. So I guess my point is my kids putting me on the spot for children's stories is my great inspiration. One day I will have to write all the stories down!

  5. That's awesome. Poodle runner made me laugh.

    I have to tell my boys what to dream every night as part of our bedtime routine. That becomes something of an improvised short story. I'll bet they'd like it if they had a story to read in the morning.

  6. Outside is definitely a good thing. Sun on my face makes me sleepy, but going for long rides and staring out the window at things flashing past kind of gets the daydreaming going. I should take that and try to make it into a more concrete story.

  7. I know that spending a few hours in Berkeley will be great for fleshing out Bete Noire. I will find inspiration in imagining Jim and Elizabeth around every corner. And I can "shop" for Marisa's house.

  8. As with everything else, the story lacks an ending right now because the other character is turning out to be more of a jerk than a friend, and so I have to figure out what becomes of that. You can read it when the first draft is done.

  9. Rain after dark. Streetlights reflected on a wet road, and the smell of a shower inspires me.
    Lots of other things do too.
    Thank you for sharing this story. I really like the smell of books as well, and I can definitely see how it could inspire you for a story.