Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Turning a Farming, er, Mishap Into Writing Inspiration

Real life offers great opportunities for adding depth to your writing.

For example, I now know that lips do more than wear lipstick and hold cigarettes. They serve a very practical purpose, that of keeping spit in your mouth. Why, you ask, am I worried about spit and whether it stays in my mouth? Because it’s suddenly relevant thanks to a recent farming mishap.

Let me share a tip, something that might save you pain and unsightly drooling in the future: keep your free hand firmly on the heavy-duty brushcutter when your other hand yanks on the starter cord. If you don’t, said brushcutter is likely to fly up off the ground and smack you in the face. Or, more precisely in my case, the mouth.

Another lesson learned the hard way.

How could this possibly add depth to my writing? At the time of the lip-splitting injury, I wasn’t worried about writing at all. I was more interested in stopping the cascade of blood running down my chin and neck (although I do remember a certain amazement that a damaged lip could bleed so much), and berating myself for not putting a foot on the brushcutter before trying to start the thing. I am a grown woman. I know better.

No, it was my husband who was thinking of my writing career when all this was going down.

To his credit, he didn’t mention writing until he got me back to the house, sopped up most of the blood, verified that my teeth were still snug in their gums, and determined that I probably wouldn’t need reconstructive surgery on the lip. (Yes, the split is that deep. It’s not a cut, not a fat lip, but a split right through the lip. Ouch. And ick, because it leaks.)

Only then does he say, “You need to write this down. How it happened, how it felt. The blood, what your lip looks like. Because one day, Cass is going to split her lip while trying to start a weedeater.”

Oooh, yeah, I think, attention totally diverted from the sting of hydrogen peroxide. “It wouldn’t be Cass,” I clarify, hoping that my imaginary main character is smarter than I am. “But Goober might do something like that.”

“No,” Husband says. “There’s no way Goober could start something as complex as a weedeater.”

“Good point. Maybe it is Cass. She might get bashed in the face when she’s arresting somebody.”

After that, I was off. Pain not entirely forgotten, but pushed to the side, brain alive with a new scene for my current book, wondering how to describe the sensation of a lip splitting, the taste of blood, and all the rest of it. Fun indeed.

I also realized that I do this quite frequently - pondering whether real life will work in a novel, not whacking myself in the face - though it’s usually someone else’s injury that inspires me. Yes, it’s crass, but it’s also the truth.

Is it just me, or do you find inspiration for your writing in the messes we get ourselves into?

(A few tips, just in case you ever split your lip while trying to start a brushcutter: 

An ice pack helps with the swelling. 

Laughing, smiling, and sneezing are not advisable. 

Straws help – think Mason Verger in Hannibal – but hold off on sipping that hot cup of coffee or tea until it cools down a tad.)

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