I enjoy reading about history and often, when the creative juices just aren’t bubbling the way I’d like, I randomly pick up a book of history and start reading. Usually what I read does not produce a direct result on what I am writing but the very act of reading about and thinking about history gets my writing muscles going again. It is a way to focus again on the creative.
There are other times when reading history actually stimulates new ideas. The story of Barbara Follett, a young writer with fierce independence and endless creativity, who vanishes, is one such example. These stories bring together the human elements of a tragic or mysterious life that have intersected with something universal like a well known event, or well known person, or even a widely used technology. These stories create a launching point – better yet – an opportunity for setting up a story.
This does not mean I would look at the Barbara Follett story and write a novel about a writer who has her enormous potential squashed, romance(s) ruined, and then disappears. Fictionalizing real events is not what I’m after here. What I want to do is inspect the elements and create something new. Perhaps the troubled writer actually disappears into her story world. The novel might happen there. Is life any better in the story world because she, as creator of it, has an advantage? Or is she surprised by what she finds in ‘her’ story world?
Riffing on things we find in the real world is what writers do, but sometimes just observing others fails to capture the larger than life elements that drive great stories. Finding and studying these better documented stories can provide the spark an author needs.