I’m in Edwardsville, Illinois today. I went to school here in college. While I’m reminiscing, I’m also being flooded with new story ideas.
You might be saying, “Yeah, yeah, Marty, how about pubbing some of them story ideas.” All in the works, I promise. I have a bunch of big projects on the way, but everything in its good time.
That’s actually what prompted me on this little path of self discovery today. I have so many projects that need edits, and covers, and other stuff (A publisher in one case), that I’ve had to put much of my new writing on hold while I take care of tidying things up. It’s times like these, when you don’t want fresh story ideas distracting, that they come in battalions.
I woke up this morning with an idea for a new dystopia book, and I had it in my head that I’d be taking a trip to the old neighborhood for a writer meetup. Anyway. Last time I came, I skipped past all of the places I used to frequent. Not this time. My first stop was the same road I took to run back and forth to St. Louis. Even though I lived here, I spent most of my free time across the river. I even graded papers and did my homework over there.
I stopped in at the local gas station I used to work at, and all kinds of memories poured in. And with them, stories. Familiar faces are all around me, but I have no way of knowing if these are the same people I knew 15 years ago. Time has weathered all of us. I imagine that this is where a lot of “traveling back in time stories” come from.
One of the coffee shops I used to love is still here, in the same spot where I left it, carrying the same name. That’s a rarity for the hole-in-the-wall places that I usually frequent. I’m pretty sure the comic store next door didn’t exist back then. Old names, old faces, so many memories that have been forgotten or repressed over the years. Even a whiff of pipe tobacco from across the street floods me with memories. Each one of those memories carries a story with it, and unlike most story ideas, these are all finished.
I guess the down side is that most of them ended badly or abruptly, or both. But that’s the great thing about stories. You can rewrite those endings through prose. You can expand on old ideas, travel down different avenues, and you can recall how you felt all those years ago. You won’t have any need to wonder what the main characters are thinking, because you already know. You were there.
Those emotions that get stirred up might not always be from the happiest of times, but they can give you a lens into the future, and into your character’s feelings. I often find, when writing, that I’ll describe a scene, and then try to bring myself back to something similar that I may have experienced to get the pulse of various characters. I remember being a little hot-head sometimes, and other times being calm as a spoiled Persian cat, but there are other memories that are buried a bit deeper.
Through traveling back in time to places that you once knew, you can sometimes bring these old stories back to the forefront. Every little detail, every smell, every taste, even the way that the bubbles in this cappuccino tickle my tongue. Subtle things. And each subtlety can bring an avalanche of memories.
So if you do decide to travel somewhere to re-live the old days, I recommend pacing yourself. Give yourself the whole day. I think that’s why I rushed through the last time that I was here. I knew that the town was going to be filled with old memories, and I didn’t really have the time on hand to absorb them. Aside from working on my editing projects today (and writing this blog post for tomorrow morning), I have a good handful of hours to simply relive my old college days for a little while.
Don’t worry. I’m not planning on doing anything particularly crazy. I won’t go on a 3 day bender that ends at some random bus stop in St. Louis, trying to find my way home on a day that the buses aren’t running. (yeah, that happened) But I will definitely take some time to soak in the scents and visuals of the town that I called home for a couple years. Who knows, maybe I’ll bump into someone I used to know. And of course, I’ll try to jot down all of the story ideas that worm their way into my brain.