19 Jan

What inspires you to write? Is it a place, a special setting, purpose, thought, or character? At one time I thought I had the perfect setting for a suspense story. For two years I worked in one of Oregon’s most haunted places. The building, built in 1906, had four floors and in its early years housed orphans and catholic nuns as caregivers.

People in the orphanage died over the years and according to staff report, mysterious things happened on every landing, but most often on the fourth floor which happened to be the old sleeping quarters.

During my time there, I worked with a team teaching eight behaviorally challenged middle school students on the first floor. Related offices were on the second and third floors, but the fourth floor was empty and falling to ruin. I did wonder why they didn’t make use of this fourth floor; my assumption is that it had to do with reports of haunting.

When I was hired, a psychologist gave me a tour of the fourth floor, such as it was. Looking around at the empty dark corners gave me an eerie feeling but that was the extent of my concern about being in the building.

Even though trusted staff of many years had a chilling story or two to tell about the building, the only thing unusual I experienced was that posters would never stick on a section of the wall in the classroom, no matter how hard I tried. I suspected the nuns didn’t want anything up there. Otherwise nothing untoward happened, so I suspected the “ghosts” didn’t want to have anything to do with behavioral students.

When I started to work there, I thought the building would inspire me to write scary or suspenseful stories, but that’s not what happened. All I really gleaned from working in a haunted building was how to write better descriptors of creaking floors and staircases, and how to better describe a large old building with tall ceilings and beautiful woodwork.

I still remember looking up the four floors of the building on my way into work each day and wondering about the fourth floor, but once I got inside my focus was on the students that I worked with, my mind was on making a difference in their lives. Sometimes writing inspiration doesn’t always come to you in ways that you would think.


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15 responses to “Inspiration

  1. Johanna Harness

    January 19, 2012 at 5:53 AM

    This makes a lot of sense to me, Mary. I sometimes abandon an idea or a setting, only to have it show up in my novel in a least-expected kind of way. We often must let go of our preconceived ideas to find the story that needs to be told.

    • Mary Vine

      January 19, 2012 at 2:10 PM

      Yes, another avenue to go down one day – when the story is right.

  2. Liz Fredericks

    January 19, 2012 at 6:48 AM

    I agree with Johanna on this point, Mary. Sometimes, I think a writer’s subconscious is hard at work cataloging every data point from our day in hopes of pulling out a gem at the right moment. I love your description of this building – and even if I wasn’t there – I am now. Thanks!

    • Mary Vine

      January 19, 2012 at 2:07 PM

      The wooodwork was beautiful. They even had some nice old wooden lockers on one floor.

  3. Janis McCurry

    January 19, 2012 at 7:46 AM

    Good post. As writers, it’s as important to keep open about what speaks to us as it is our targeted research for a specific purpose.

    • Mary Vine

      January 19, 2012 at 2:08 PM

      Hadn’t thought about it that way before. Good thinking.

  4. Meredith Conner

    January 19, 2012 at 9:52 AM

    Ditto for me. Things that I expect to inspire me one way often go in different directions.

    • Mary Vine

      January 19, 2012 at 2:12 PM

      Thanks for commenting Meredith.

  5. Lynn Mapp

    January 19, 2012 at 9:56 AM

    Mary, that’s the thing with writing. Just when you think you’ve got things figured out, the story fizzles or goes in another direction. You are right. You did get the whole discription thing nailed.

    • Mary Vine

      January 19, 2012 at 2:11 PM

      Here’s to another direction-where it’s supposed to go.

  6. ramblingsfromtheleft

    January 19, 2012 at 11:01 AM

    Mary, the mind has caverns, hidden valleys, whispering pines, castles, dungeons and locked rooms. Often a memory, a vision, something we did not regard when we first experienced it, can one day unlock one of those rooms and roam through the landscape our memory. You don’t know that down the line, the sense of mystery of the fourth floor will grab you and tell you a story you will feel compelled to write. I hope you at least kept pictures of the building 🙂

    • Mary Vine

      January 19, 2012 at 2:05 PM

      Good idea. I should get a picture while it’s still online. I certainly did get lots of ghost stories there, should be plenty there for a scary tale. Thanks.

  7. Peggy Staggs

    January 20, 2012 at 8:30 AM

    That’s so true. Inspiration comes when we least expect it. that’s why it’s always important to keep your eyes and mind open.

  8. Mary Vine

    January 20, 2012 at 2:03 PM

    Good words, Peggy.

  9. Clarissa Southwickcl

    January 20, 2012 at 6:49 PM

    Great story, Mary. Most of the time, my inspiration comes from things that seem to be out of place. I can’t help wondering how they got there and then the what-if’s take over.


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