Fodder for Writing

I’ve been in Vermont for three days, and I’ve been working my butt off the whole time – and I love every minute of it to be sure.  I was chosen to be one of seven Graduate Assistants, also known as slave labor, and I was thrilled and honored at the chance to return to my alma mater.  Things really got going today, and this weekend will be the pinnacle event – the Post-Masters Workshop.  Again, thrilled and honored are the words that best fit this experience.

There is something about this place that is so inspiring.  It may be the energy here is just cranked up a notch.  It may be that I’m surrounded by people who care as deeply about children’s writing as I do.  It may be that I feel like I’m among my own kind when I’m here.  Whatever the reasons, I just know that I feel like writing all the time, and I’m always stunned at how much I accomplish, even when I’m constantly busy.

I decided to sit in the computer lab last nights – mostly because it’s one of the few air-conditioned rooms on campus, but also because I had the itch.  I worked on a new piece for several hours, not realizing how late it had gotten until the security guard came in and asked much longer I would be.  It was coming up on midnight, so I told him I’d surrender for the evening.  I was tired physically, but mentally the wheels kept churning and I was dying to get back to the story. 

I had a few spare moments this afternoon, but when I came in to start working, a most annoying woman was also present.  First, when someone struggled to get something to print, she had to insert herself into the conversation (though she truly had nothing to add).  When another student in the room made a comment that interrupted hers, she very harshly said, “Excuse me!” then continued with her useless comments. I looked wide-eyed at another Graduate Assistant who was sitting next to me, and we both tried hard not to laugh. 

Later, as I continued to type away, the rude lady could be heard talking and complaining to herself, making loud sighs and the occasional groan to express her frustration at something.  I don’t know if she was looking for help, or if she just had a compelling need for everyone to know that she was frustrated, but she was really getting on my nerves.  I found myself getting angry at this person I’ve never met.  The other Graduate Assistant slipped me a piece of paper with a note that said “All fodder for writing.” 

I laughed outloud, then tried to quiet myself by coughing slightly. It’s such a good reminder, though.  Annoying people like this – and others about whom I’ve written here before – make great elements in a story.  They add interesting conflict.  Of course, there has to be some cosmetic surgery, like changing gender or physical descriptions, but I rarely worry that these people will read my books in an effort to see if I used them as the basis of character. 

Margaret Bechard, an instructor at Vermont College, once gave a lecture about turning an annoying teacher at her son’s school into a character in one of her books.  “I promoted him to principal,” she told us. “He didn’t even recognize himself when he read the book to his class a few years later.”

Every writer does this.  We all draw – consciously or subconsciously – from the people and events around us.  We take things we know, match them up with things we imagine, and we create stories.  So I guess I’m grateful to the annoying lady, and to the many other offensive, obnoxious, and simply irritating people and events in my life.  Without them, I’d be lacking a bit in good material.


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