A Writer’s Inspiration—and Some Advice

by Jean Free and Jennifer Lee

A Writer's Inspiration

- Jean Free

The Rotary Dial
, a journal that focuses on formal poetry, recently included my poem “Astrology” in their annual Best Dial Poems of 2015 issue. I am so elated to see this poem in print, mostly because of how long it took me to write about a seemingly insignificant event that occurred  in 1990. It wasn’t for lack of trying; I attempted to write about it and workshopped it so many times I’ve lost count: in memoir form, in short fiction, and in poem after poem after poem. I think this happens to all writers; until you can successfully turn that concept or image into something you feel is worthy, it will return over and over again in your writing—even subconsciously. At many points over the last 25 years I felt like a failure reverting to the same moment, but in time I had new perspectives that not only resulted in more deliberate word choices and form changes, but also in my ability to frame the ideas in a more mature and universal way. Time clarified and transformed the meaning of that moment and my ability to write about it effectively. At 17, I sensed it was poignant, but I was too young to grasp its depth. I encourage writers to allow ideas the time to evolve. It requires a great deal of commitment and patience to fully formulate a concept, to be open to constructive criticism, and to revise for an extended period of time, but the work will show in your final piece.

A Writer's Inspiration

- Jennifer Lee

Cannibalize your personal narrative. Stripped-down parts of the writer’s life are a large part of what any story is composed of. One of my favorite experiences worked into fiction was the brief but glorious time I drove a ’67 Shelby Mustang when I was nineteen years old.

I picked up the car in Los Angeles in early July and met up with a friend in San Francisco a few days later. We drove up the Pacific Coast to Seattle. From there we traveled west to Wyoming and finally down through Colorado to Santa Fe, New Mexico, where I was a student.

The Cobra Mustang was a fast, sexy car. Mine was cherry red. I was pulled over for speeding five times in five months but never given a ticket.  It wasn’t my charm and good looks that got me off; plenty of times before while driving less remarkable cars I’d been written up for speeding. State troopers loved the Cobra, and really, given the car’s capacity, ninety-five miles an hour wasn’t that fast. I think those officers just wanted to see who was driving. Nineteen was the year I shaved my head with a razor blade. Maybe I never got a ticket because my presence behind the wheel was such a total surprise.

Flash forward fifteen years and the Mustang is long gone. I’m married, have two adolescent children, and I’m driving a blue Nissan minivan. A friend from my college days comes to visit. We reminisce about our wild youth, the high times in the desert we had, the fast car I drove.

The juxtaposition of the then and now inspired the story "Cobra," coming out in The Greensboro Review later this year. Sometimes mining the details of my life for fictional purposes is painful, but writing about the Shelby Cobra was pure fun.