The Back Door Into Creativity
IN MEMORIAM Paul Schulkind 1955-2016.
During the Great Depression, there were many “hobos” (today called “the homeless”) wandering across the country. They would often knock on the back door of a house to ask for food. One might say that it was there, rather than at the formal front door, that the ‘action’ happened, that truly meaningful interactions took place.
The same can be true for your writing. Is what you want to write about intimidating you? Does it feel too close to you or too big for you to put into words? Well, that’s natural. Facing some subjects can be like looking directly at the sun. Overwhelming.
Try going at it through a ‘back door.’ Sneak around the full impact of the subject and find some smaller element or detail about which to start writing. You’ll find that the detail is connected to and will lead you to write about the rest of the story. Do you want to write about the death of someone very close to you? Try starting with some innocent detail you remember about the person. You may find that not only is it therapeutic, but it naturally leads you to write the rest of what you have to say (even if you didn’t know it was what you had to say).
Perhaps, you want to write about an emotionally overwhelming subject, such as the recent killings in Aurora. Going at it head-on may be too intimidating. What do you say about such a horror? But if you go in through a back door, there are many possibilities. For example, I saw a photograph in the news the day of the murders, of a mother who had just arrived and found her son unharmed. I won’t soon forget the look on her face. As she hugged him very tightly, in her hand were her car keys. Imagine what her drive to the theater had been like. And she must’ve quickly gotten out of her car (that maybe she had been planning to give to her son) and run across the parking lot to grab hold of the boy she had raised for, say, 17 years and had allowed to go see a Batman movie.
The back door, it’s a helluva place.
Paul Schulkind is an Associate of the Elizabeth Ayres Center for Creative Writing. He leads the Oceanfront Writer’s Retreat in Montauk, New York.