A return to creative writing

I think most people who know me also know that before I was a journalist, I was a 14-, 15-, 16- and 17-year-old novelist. Then I went to journalism school and the whole creative writing thing went kaput. And yes, that’s how you spell “kaput.”

That’s not to say the well dried up — this blog is testament to the fact I still write outside of a journalistic or academic setting — but lack of time, energy, sleep, time, inspiration, time, brainpower, and did I mention time? have made writing my next “great” novel (note the sarcasm) a tough one.

And that includes the last six days I’ve been home.

I made three goals for this break:

  1. Relax and recharge after the excruciatingly stressful semester I just finished.
  2. Go to Kuma’s Corner with Noah Huh.
  3. Start a new writing project or get immersed in an old one.

So far, relaxing and recharging haven’t been a struggle. Because this could be the last day of life on Earth as we know it (thank you, Mayans), I spent it doing the most productive thing I could think of: camping out on the couch and watching five episodes of The West Wing while crocheting a scarf.*

*If the Earth ends, I will have no regrets.

But, once disc 6 of season 1 came to its end, and I continued to crochet (the DVD player is just too far across the family room to bother getting up), a scene from the end of Star Wars Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back decided to pop into my head for no apparent reason.

Han Solo, about to be cast into a large lead block that reminds me of mechanical pencils — forgive me, Star Wars fans, for I have only seen Episode V once — gets this great kiss from Princess Leia, who goes on to say “I love you.” His response, “I know.”

That’s a great exchange. That’s what novelists curse George Lucas for writing first and wasting on a film that’s based on visuals, not screenplay. “Luke, I am your father,” was the best line the franchise deserved, and here it got one of the most hard-core “See ya later when I’m not a block of graphite anymore” lines.

But complaining aside, I wondered if Lucas had thought of that line while doing something as equally mundane as making a scarf. “Ah-hah!” he might have exclaimed over the clacking of his knitting needles. “Now, to write the rest of the script!” And thus, one of the greatest sci-fi sagas of all time was born from a single badass line. Yes, this is me kowtowing to the Star Wars fans I may have offended with my rant about screenplays.

I ask your forgiveness, dear nerd friends. But next time you tell me Harry Potter is just a British, medieval-style rehash of Star Wars, know that I'm armed and ready.
I ask your forgiveness, dear nerd friends. But next time you tell me Harry Potter is just a British rehash of Star Wars, know that I’m armed and ready for debate.

But what does all this have to do with creative writing? It’s all about origin of creative thought, i.e. inspiration.

For example, I started writing a story on Monday about a character with the last name Hofferblanche. By “started to write a story,” I mean I got 133 words into it, with absolutely no knowledge of where it was going other than the fact that the main character would have the last name Hofferblanche.

            Every morning was the same for Hubert Hofferblanche. He would wake up at 5:55 a.m. and keep his eyes closed until his alarm went off five minutes later. His wife would turn over to face him just as the clock radio started to play, and his arm would snap out from under the down comforter to catch it so she wouldn’t wake up. Then he would get out of bed, walk toward the master bathroom while trying to keep as silent as possible, but inevitably would trip over Madeleine’s slippers, which had their routine resting place at the foot of their bed.

The showerhead would turn on at 6:05 a.m., after he had put in his contact lenses. Ten minutes later, he would be out and toweling off when Madeleine would stumble in,

No plot plan, other than the fact he’s going to have a dramatic change happen in his life that at the very least puts the kibosh (and yes, I checked up on the spelling of “kibosh,” too) on his morning routine. Maybe it would have something to do with a woman half his age who likes to knit and has a lot of swordplay training.*

*She knits cozies for her sword sheaths. And if that character is sounding somewhat like me, know that a) I don’t have sword training, and b) I crochet, not knit. There’s a difference.

But that’s not the point; the point is that I started up a story based on a single name: Hofferblanche. The origin? I can only imagine it came watching an episode of The West Wing when Toby gets an honor guard to preside over a homeless veteran’s funeral. The veteran’s name was Walter Huffnagel, which sounds like “Hoffernagel” the way they say it on the show. The “-blanche” part probably comes from the last name of Stanford Blatch on Sex and the City (another favorite watch-seven-episodes-in-one-sitting show).

Stanford looks absolutely delighted to have inspired half a last name.
Stanford looks absolutely delighted to have inspired half a last name.

Aiming for a somewhat-smooth transition here in what’s turning into a dissertation on my creative writing process of the past few days, I’ll also say that it’s a dream of mine to have a critic say my writing voice is “loaded with the same snark, humor and frankness you would read if Carrie Bradshaw and Chuck Palahniuk had a well-read love child.”*

*Which, of course, is impossible because Chuck Palahniuk is gay. The writer of Fight Club, that ode to manly manliness, is gay. Take that, homophobics who preach the sayings of Tyler Durden.

My apologies for all the digressions and asides. Must be the rainy weather; it does weird (mostly good) things to my writing.

So to sum up, Lucas could have written Star Wars based on that one little exchange that popped into his head. I feel open to say that because, according to my crack Google search abilities, many people have asked the question and its variants, but to no avail.

George Lucas has some questions to answer before Episode VII.
Maybe Lucas hasn’t answered these because the answers are as lame as episodes I-III. BAM! STAR WARS BURN!

His secrecy make me feel better about how I came up with “Hofferblanche,” because if this 133-word thing turns into a goldmine of a book, I won’t have to divulge the origin of the name. Unlike J.K. Rowling my patron goddess of writing and creative thought, who had the majesty of a train ride as explanation for Harry Potter, I’ll have a fictional homeless veteran and fictional gay fashionista (what is Stanford’s job, anyway?) to thank.

There are worse things, I suppose, such as whatever made Lucas think Jarjar Binks was a good idea.

“Jarjar” translates into “Great disappointment” in geek speak, or so I’m told.

Please! Share your own inspiration stories, both good and embarrassing. I need all the help I can get. Any recommendations for things that could get me back on the writing track?

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