Bernie Schallehn

Life, Literature, and All Things Lyrical

Anxiety + Obsession = Inspiration

December 13, 2012

Tags: Writing, Ideas, Process, Recipe

Others will often ask, "Where do you get your ideas, your inspiration for your stories?"

The process is relatively simple.

I have the nervous system of a gerbil. The synapses are always firing--physically and mentally--at a furious pace. Unfortunately, if I don't find an outlet for all this energy it will morph into the "bad anxiety"-- the "disease" of the "what ifs." What if this mole is cancerous? What if my car won't start? What if the toilet overflows? You get the picture. But I've learned to use "what if" in a positive way. What if there was a female hypnotist plying her trade and had to face all sorts of obstacles? What if an upper-middle-class guy wound up living in a trailer park? What if we were placed on this earth with a specific mission or calling and chose to turn away from it--what might happen...if anything?

I can't write good fiction unless I have an obsession about the topic. Some of the good "what ifs" aren't strong enough and don't make the cut or simply evaporate. Having been a practicing hypnotherapist for 17 years, I've retained an obsession regarding this healing art. I became obsessed with trailer parks. Who really lives there? Why do they keep their Christmas lights on all year long? What's it like for a kid to be a resident in a mobile home community, often to be the butt of jokes and ridicule on the school bus? Do humans sometimes/often live "the wrong life?" What pressures or influences cause them to turn away from their true calling once they've discovered it?

With this obsession comes research. I spent hours with the curator of a museum in Saranac Lake to learn about Robert Louis Stevenson's actual time there, partaking of the "fresh air cure" for his lung ailment. (THE LADY HYPNOTIST) I spoke at length with trailer park residents. (PARKIE) And I conversed with individuals who loved their professions and others who detested their work (SAVING JOSHUA).

That's basically it, that's how inspiration to write about a topic comes to me. It feels like a natural meld: my good anxiety--"what if"-- paired with an obsession produces inspiration to write. After gathering my notes and research, I'm at my laptop. Some days the story flows out of me; other times it's more like a trickle. But that's the writing life...

Well, I'd love to chat longer but I just finished my pellets and it's time for me to take a spin in my wheel.

Hope to talk with you again soon.

~Bernie

Selected Works

Fiction
The saga of a septic tank cleaner desperate to hit big in country music.
The life and times of a female traveling hypnotist in the late 1880s.
A nerdy accountant winds up in a bizarre, but oddly idyllic trailer park.
A dark, semi-autobiographical coming-of-age drama involving two brothers.
Self-help
Mind Matters assists the drummer in conquering mental and emotional obstacles inherent to the art.

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