One of my friends commented that writers are like sharks, always on the move, because if we ever stopped moving, we would surely die! (actually, that's a common misconception about sharks. There's only one species of shark, "obligate ram ventilators." who will die if they stop moving. The rest can take pit stops to grab a breath.)
But back to her theory. When I asked her to explain, she said, "You guys are always thinking, always watching everything, always coming up with characters and plots." She gave a little snort. "And when you're sleeping, you probably dream about books." (I may be mistaken, but I thought she sounded vaguely annoyed with me.)
But I have to confess, in many ways, she's right. It's true that our brains are always "engaged," much to the annoyance of our non-writer pals. We never "chill out," we're always thinking, thinking.
If I go to a party--a rare event, I always have deadlines--I try to absorb everything I see, hear and feel. It's all material, after all. Last week, I saw a girl in tight white dress (if it were any tighter, it would be a tourniquet) and heard her whisper to a friend, "This dress--it was a gift." Really? I am fascinated and wonder who bought it--her hubby, standing at the bar downing a few shooters, her boyfriend, a flashy Lothario chatting up a redhead, or maybe she's lying and she bought it herself? (It's a designer dress, but then, she IS a hedge fund manager.). One look at a dress and my mind scoots down odd passageways. I immediately started thinking about how I could work the "girl in the white dress" into a murder mystery.
Odd bits of dialogue are always intriguing. I overheard two women talking at Starbucks. One said, "How are Walter and Francesca doing? I heard they were having some problems." Her friend shook her head sadly and replied, "Yeah, it's a shame. Things have never been the same with them--ever since he threw her through that plate glass window." Yowsers. I sipped my Chai tea and moved to another table.
And it doesn't have to be sights and sounds, even smells can trigger strong memories for us. I love honeysuckle, it always reminds me of "summer nights filled with magic and promise, when everything seems possible." One whiff of honeysuckle and I'm wrapped up in a romance novel in my head.
Sometimes a sight and smell together can move a writer to tears. I was walking with a friend when we passed a Victorian house surrounded by magnolia bushes. A young girl came out and let the screen door bang behind her. I was shocked when my friend's eyes suddenly got misty.
I stopped dead in my tracks. "What's wrong?" I asked. She brushed her tears away and said sheepishly, "I know this sounds crazy, but the smell of the magnolia bushes, the front porch, the screen door banging on a summer night, it just all seems so sad."
Sad? It turns out that she was flashing back to a memory of herself at age thirteen, spending the summer with her grandmother at the shore. It was happier times for her, and she captured that whole image--and those feelings--in a sort of freeze frame. The image was so vivid and so moving, it was hard to believe that twenty five years had passed. But I knew exactly what she meant, because the same sort of thing has happened to me.
Do certain sights/sounds/smells trigger a memory for you? Can a sunset or a summer night bring back a wave of nostalgia? If so, you're probably a writer. Or have the soul of a writer...