Roughly four months ago I began a challenge, to write one short story a week for a year. 52 stories in 52 weeks sounded like nothing when I sat at the starting line of week one with a few good ideas but when I finished week two I was concerned and I began to worry that my shallow well of ideas would dry up.
When writing was still a hobby that came and went with inspiration, I thought I had two or three good ideas for stories. Sometimes I wrote them down and sometimes I only daydreamed about them on long drives and during boring classes but as the weeks of my challenge went on I was so worried about having nothing else to write that it tied my stomach up in knots.
I looked at the black idea notebook I carry with me wherever I go and I’d cringe at the thought of having nothing to put in it. I’d complain to myself that nothing exciting happens to me but the small dramas that come with having a two and four year old. I remembered all the days I spent traveling before I had children and I worried that being stuck in the bubble of my house in the midwest would slowly kill all I had to offer the world of the written word. How could my imagination thrive and give me ideas for 52 stories between loads of laundry and trips to the park?
In desperation I started keeping my eyes open, and I wondered where the great writers I admire got the inspiration they used to write.
When I paid attention I started to see things.
A few weeks into my short story challenge I was a little more than worried about what I’d write that week. It was a day past when I normally posted stories to my blog and I had nothing. I took the kids to the park and sat on a nearby bench to watch them play. Instead of pulling out a book and reading like I normally would I decided to try to stop thinking and take in the breeze and listen to the sound of the kids laughing as they slid down slides and chased each other through the jungle gym.
Soon after I settled in a woman and a little girl walked up. I said hello and she smiled, the girl waved and said something in incoherent toddle babble, pointed to the swings and jumped up and down. The woman put her on the swing and laughed and spoke a language I couldn’t place. The girl flew high, her legs kicked against the air as she held tight to the chain rope propelling her forward and pulling her back. After a few minutes I heard a phone ring and the woman answered it and kept pushing the pigtailed girl with one hand. Moments into the conversation the woman backed away from the girl and sat in the mulch and mud on the ground. She didn’t cry or speak or close her eyes. She just sat and listened then ended the call with the poke of her finger on the screen, gathered the girl into her arms and left.
Before I made a point to look for stories I would have wondered what the person on the other end of the phone said but probably would have forgotten it by dinnertime. On the walk home I thought through several scenarios. While I set the table for dinner those ideas led to others, and later that night when I sat down to write I ended up with a story that had nothing to do with a woman and a mystery phone call, but it flowed from the original thought and turned into something I loved.
If I hadn’t adjusted the way I interacted with the world, my head would have been buried in a book at the park that day. I probably would have only glanced up occasionally to check on my boys and likely would have missed the woman and girl being there.
I realize now that stories really are everywhere. They wait for us in interactions as quick as a hello and linger in fragments on the edge of our subconscious. All that stories need to be born is a few moments of quiet and a little courage.