“What inspired you?” It’s a question we’re often asked as writers, and, if we’re being honest, we can never fully articulate the answer.
Was it that story you read? Or that thing someone said? Or that bare tree, glistening in the dampness of early spring, standing tall on a sidewalk stained with fallen blossoms? Maybe.
People often ask me how I got the idea to write BLUE: A HISTORY OF THE COLOR AS KEEP AS THE SEA AND AS WIDE AS THE SKY. I tell them the truth: “I was reading a description of the furnishings in King Solomon’s temple in the Bible, and it noted that a curtain was blue. I wondered why that detail mattered so I started investigating.” But one third grader recently asked what I think is a better question. She probed, “But what made you wonder?”
I could try to stumble through an answer here, as I did when the student asked, but I believe, ultimately, only God knows. What I will say is, sit with that question.
What makes you wonder? What are you wondering about right now?
Pay attention to the question that keeps coming up for you, the one that’s been insistently splashing around your brain, and, instead of judging it as silly, insignificant or too scary to plumb, let it get you wet. Dive into it and allow it to lead you to sources expected and unexpected to find the answer. With your question brazenly framing your perspective, you’ll start noticing—or stop ignoring—answers all around you.
Gather every fragment of an answer you find, then dump them on the page. (Drafts are allowed to be a mess.) Examine what you have, and begin to isolate and assemble the treasures—the facts, the anecdotes, the new questions—into a work that isn’t so much the answer, but a construction that reflects the work you did to find your answer.
When you’re staring at what you created, and someone asks, “What was your inspiration?” once again, you’ll probably stumble trying to explain, but I believe what you will have is a fresh sense of wonder that you wondered at all.
Meet the Author:
Nana Ekua Brew-Hammond is the author of the children's picture book BLUE: A HISTORY OF THE COLOR AS DEEP AS THE SEA AND WIDE AS THE SKY, illustrated by Caldecott Honor Artist Daniel Minter, and the young adult novel POWDER NECKLACE, which Publishers Weekly called “a winning debut.” Her short fiction for adult readers is included in the anthologies Accra Noir edited by Nana-Ama Danquah, Africa39 edited by Ellah Wakatama Allfrey, New Daughters of Africa edited by Margaret Busby, CBE, Hon. FIRSL, Everyday People edited by Jennifer Baker, and Woman's Work edited by Michelle Sewell, among others. Her writing has also appeared in Now2, African Writing, Los Angeles Review of Books, and Sunday Salon.