While standing in Ernest Hemingway’s house in Key West several years ago, surrounded by descendants of his cats, peering into his writing cottage, I was moved. As I walked through the tour, I felt the skin on the back of my neck rise and knew, without question, that I wanted to bring readers to that place in his time. Or, more accurately, I desired to go that place in his time.
If you are a writer, you’ve no doubt had that feeling. When unexplained connections, familiarity, or the chills that rise on your arms in affirmation signal: “Yes—I belong here,” or “This is meant for me.” How often have you read a book, or listened to a piece of music, or looked at a painting that has affected you in this way?
This communion of people, place, and time has interested me for many years, but I didn’t have a name for it until I read THE LUNCHEON OF THE BOATING PARTY by Susan Vreeland. In it, one of the main characters observes Renoir as he paints and remarks that she is a part of nous (French for “we” or “us”), this shared experience of time and space through art. This concept of nous has profoundly affected both the way I consume and produce art. It’s why I write, and specifically, why I write historical fiction.
I bring this up today because I’ve lately heard a collective sigh or groan amongst my writer friends who seem to be dry. Ideas feel stale, plots have fizzled, characters are being uncooperative. I understand; I’ve been there. But when I think of nous, this shared art experience and what we’re trying to do, it reminds me of what got me started in the first place—when I stood in the house in the tropics, surrounded by a dead writer’s artifacts, and I felt the urge to start scribbling ideas.
So, if you’re stale, take yourself back to the catalyst that ignited your passion for your story. Feel time and space slip away, and make yourself present to the ideas you want to communicate. Then you’ll be ready to write so that someday you may share with all of us your story in only the way that you can tell it.
What person, place, idea, or event called you to writing action? Share your inspiration. Do you think the idea of nous is spiritual or foolishness?