How to Find Inspiration Anywhere (& a new short story!)

This week, Barrelhouse featured my short story “Urban Legend” in their seasonal issue. I’ve pasted the first paragraph below:

It was the week of her performance review, and Adrienne was ready for a promotion. That Monday morning, at the 12th Street Gym, all the lockers in use were fastened with locks. When she joined months ago, they told her she could buy one at any hardware store, but Adrienne had never been in a hardware store nor had she ever purchased a lock—what kind should she ask for? what if they gave her the wrong one?—and Adrienne was so busy with work these days, how did anyone find the time for something like that? As she rushed towards the showers and saw women squeezing out of their sports bras, her chin rose high, high above them, over a bar that would be set very soon, after her performance review.

You can keep reading here.

This short story was inspired by a podcast that I once happened to come across called “Stuff You Should Know.” In one particular episode, the hosts describe how they grew up hearing different versions of the same urban legend as kids. The exact details of their accounts of the legend varies, but the essential components are the same: a white woman staying at a fancy hotel is frightened when a black man enters the elevator with her. The next morning, much to her own shame, she finds out he’s a famous actor and has paid for her hotel bill.

The moral takeaway of the urban legend is to never discriminate on the basis of race, but more interesting to me was the fact that I’d never heard it before. I wondered if this was because I’d grown up in a city–not a suburb–where this kind of racial anxiety wasn’t engrained in my community’s psyche. But in New York City, where gentrification has transformed some communities to the point that they are no longer recognizable, those racial tensions certainly can and do exist, and I wanted to explore that. So, in my version of this urban legend, the story takes place in an urban setting.

As writers, one of the most exciting things that happens to us is that inspiration really does strike anywhere. Without listening to that podcast that once, I would have never had the seed of my story. But we often forget that ideas come when we least expect them, and the result is that we beat ourselves up for not making our word counts, for not reading the must-read books of the year, for not producing, producing, producing! It’s December, the season of all the end-of-year lists, and right now, in particular, it can feel even more like you’re behind.

I encourage you to take a breath. On Twitter today, I’ve seen lots of my peers circulating an article on The Cut about not being so hard on yourself, and I think the following passage illustrates my point:

What are you doing right now? Are you really running late? Or are you doing it your way — your unique, slow, strange, panicked, bewildered, besieged, bewitching way?

Writers, don’t be afraid to do it your way. Maybe there’s a story brewing in you and maybe you have no idea what. But give yourself the permission to take a break from reading or writing. Listen to a podcast that has nothing to do with craft, or watch a movie you’ve seen a million times before. Notice how storytelling is all around us and learn to appreciate the mystery in it. People tend to think in circles, recycling the same thoughts over and over again, viewing the world in the same stodgy ways, but what makes writing so joyous is its potential to surprise, and ultimately delight us. That’s a worthwhile pursuit, no matter your pace.

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Stephanie Jimenez

Stephanie Jimenez is a former Fulbright recipient and Prep for Prep alumna. She is based in Queens, New York, and her work has appeared in The Guardian, O! the Oprah Magazine, Entropy, and more. Her debut novel, THEY COULD HAVE NAMED HER ANYTHING, will be published in the summer of 2019 (Little A). Follow her @estefsays.

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