By Dan Haggerty
Finally, a solution to writer’s block.
Author John Sheirer’s new book, What’s the Story? is designed to inspire creative writers and help them overcome the dreaded block.
What’s the Story? features 50 photographs and 1,000 ideas to help writers create and revise material. Each page in the book starts with an inspiring picture meant to jog a creative mind, followed by a series of background questions a writer can ask his or herself like “Where is this being taken?” “What are the names of the characters in the photo?” “Why are they there?” This allows writers to open their minds to new settings and characters.
These initial questions are warm-up exercises of sorts for the writing prompts connected to each photo, in which writers are asked simply, “What’s the Story?” This is where John gives us license to fully imagine.
I have been writing fiction seriously for three years now. And I can tell you from experience that there is nothing more frustrating than staring blankly at a computer screen or notebook waiting for inspiration to strike only to be stuck in place for hours on end with nothing to show for the time you have spent.
This maddening feeling is exactly why I think John’s book is so important. What’s the Story? acts as a detour for a writer. When there is a roadblock on the path to creation, I find it comforting that John has outlined an alternate route for writers to continue their journey.
For fun, I gave John’s system a try to see just how much I could really get out of What’s the Story? I chose a picture of a shirtless man ON A BIKE? in mid-air wearing sunglasses and who had earbuds in. Behind the man was a cliff, some trees, and in the far-off distance you could almost make out the image of a large house.
The first background question that John prompted was to give the mid-air man a name. He looks like a Travis to me. Another question: “What season of the year is it?” Summer was a nice fit I decided. “Why isn’t he wearing a shirt?” My first thought was that it was to impress a girl. What more noble a reason could there be to be a shirtless, cliff-jumping daredevil? The last question John asked was “What song is he listening to with his earbuds?” It had to be “Leaving the Nest (It’s a Long Way Down)”. Nothing else felt quite right.
Then I moved on to the What’s the Story? section of the system. I chose the prompt of writing Travis’ interior monologue as he prepares for his leap. The first line is always the toughest to come up with. I struggled with it for a few minutes, typing, deleting, typing, deleting. I looked at John’s suggested first lines and the very first one stuck out to me. “I wonder if she’s looking at me.” It was perfect. Just like that, I was on my way to a comedic short story about a young man named Travis who was trying to impress his crush with a cliff-jumping stunt.
John is a writing professor at Asnuntuck Community College in Enfield, Connecticut. His many writing works include memoirs such as Growing up Mostly Normal in the Middle of Nowhere and Loop Year: 365 Days on the Trail, a short story collection titled One Bite: Stories for Short Attention Spans, Stolen Moments, and Busy Lives, a collection of essays on current events, Tales of a Real American Liberal, and a collection of photos and life-lessons he learned with the help of his dog, Libby Speaks: The Wit and Wisdom of the World’s Wisest Dog. John also writes regularly for The Daily Hampshire Gazette as a columnist on politics and current events.
John’s short stories, poems, essays, and photographs have appeared in hundreds of print and online publications. He lives in Northampton with his wife Betsy and their dog Libby.
Writers of all levels have dealt with writer’s block. I know I have. Thanks to John, writer’s block may be a thing of the past.
Note: Dan Haggerty is a senior at Westfield State University who is interning with my business, Beetle Press, this semester.