Ah, wholesale theft. I'd forgotten all about it. I'm glad, though, that someone brought the idea up (see Matt's comments on the last post); glad to know that I'm not the only one who uses the technique! I find it to be an excellent way to unblock myself when I've hit a wall. I go back to the writers that inspire me and walk in the footprints they leave behind (if for no other reason than to avoid land mines). Sometimes it works: A story I wrote about the Molly Maguires found it's beginning in Aleksandar Hemon's "The Accordian." (It ended up more like Ambrose Bierce's "An Occurrence at Owl Creek", but that might be beside the point.) The current albatross around my neck...er...I mean novel I'm working on (which, by the way, I should be working on as I type this...) finally found a shape once I read Michael Ondaatje's Coming Through Slaughter. Sometimes it doesn't: I am fairly certain that everything I've ever written has been my attempt to re-create Faulkner's As I Lay Dying, to very little success.
Successful or not, I still do it, though. I don't think I can help myself. Even if I just end up spending an evening re-reading the last few paragraphs of Joyce's "The Dead," or the last page of Fitzgerald's The Great Gatsby, or a few pages from someone like Ann Carson, or Joanna Scott (who is a criminally overlooked writer--ya'll should check out Arrogance or Tourmaline), I still feel like I've accomplished something, even if I don't write a word. Other writers have a way of recharging me, of reminding me of the potential of this art form. (Wow, is this getting rousing? I suddenly feel like watching standing up on my desk to yawp, a la Dead Poets Society). And since I've already come to the conclusion that my dreams are no good (or not nearly as good as Prince's), I have to turn to external sources from time to time.
Maybe this is, at least in part, a kind of answer to my previous question. As Salinger's Seymour Glass once pointed out to his brother, Buddy, "you've been a reader long before you were ever a writer" (oh my, the Salinger police are definitely coming after me now), so it is with me. Probably it's that way with every writer. With anyone who has ever picked up a pen, or a paintbrush or a guitar or a camera. We were devouring what others did long before we tried our own hand at it. And when I am stuck, really floundering, I go right back to those people who made me want to write in the first place. Those people who made the whole thing seem so flippin effortless that I wanted to do the same (joke's on me, isn't it?).
I'm not saying that this is my only source of inspiration--I'd like to think that I can be one of those people who sees the story in the mundane things like tricycles and beaded bracelets--but it is one source. And a pretty damned good one, too. Prince has his sexy tiny purple velvety assless pants sexy sex dreams (which is how I imagine Prince's dreams to be), and that's great for him, but a reading chair can be just as useful. (awww)