By May Wuthrich
Novelist, Screenwriter and Director Peter Hedge’s visit to Amherst this summer was pure inspiration. In addition to speaking in the Red Room, he taught a master class with students where they spent 90 minutes on a series of short writing assignments. The idea was to lose self-consciousness about “writing badly” and allow ideas to flow from a variety of prompts — these included coming up with intriguing character names and descriptions, a location for a scene, favorite combination of words, among others. The majority of students found an idea, a character, a scene, or a piece of dialogue that could become the basis of a longer piece, or as Peter described, “a nugget that can be built upon.”
During the class, Peter discussed that creating something out of nothing is a process and requires patience and stamina; and the willingness of the writer “to traffic in the terrible in order to stumble onto something exquisite.” He talked about his own experience of carrying around a character name, a title or a phrase that he found intriguing but didn’t know how or what it would become. This was the case with his first novel What’s Eating Gilbert Grape, which he adapted into a film starring Leonardo DiCaprio and Johnny Depp.
The first summer Peter taught, a student asked him what, if anything, he had written. In response, Peter promised the student he would write a play that night, dedicate it to him and perform it the next day. He fulfilled that promise and created a monologue that eventually became the novel What’s Eating Gilbert Grape. The lesson: when we set out to do or be something, we can end up in unexpected places.
Peter isn’t alone in this. Peter recounted a conversation he had with author Suzanne Collins whose nugget of an idea was to write an anti-war piece with a strong female protagonist…which became The Hunger Games.
So, don’t worry about getting stuck, grow your work through developing a habit and a sense of play and possibility. Keep dreaming up ideas, keep writing, and don’t expect instant results.