Derek Gentile: Inspiration not always flowing fast


PITTSFIELD -- This is one of those days when inspiration is floating by me like a piece of wood in the middle of a river, utterly out of my reach.

But rather than leave this whole column blank, let’s think a little about inspiration.

My friend Al Lenardson was a columnist for the old Berkshire Courier in Great Barrington. Al worked in circulation and customer service at the old Courier. He also, from time to time, wrote brilliant columns, always well-constructed, funny and pointed.

But every time the powers-that-be asked him to write a regular column, he would demur.

"I cannot write until the muse strikes," he would say. "And the muse does not strike often enough to write a weekly column."

So, we got a column every five or six or seven weeks. But at least he was honest.

I’ve never had a major problem coming up with subjects of which to write about. Sometimes, something hits me when I’m driving to work, or reading one of several newspapers I read or just talking with someone. The biggest problem I have is when I come with two pretty good ideas and have to try to remember the second one after I write about the first one.

I know, the simplest solution would be to write down what I remember. I do; but sometimes I forget where I put the note, either a paper or electronic one.

I agree with the late author Robert B. Parker about writer’s block. He always said he just never had time for it. Neither do I. I’m not denying that it exists, but when you’re on the clock for a story or a column, you have to do something.

My fellow columnist and friend Brian Sullivan told me many times that we should be able to crank out just about any story to which we are assigned. But we’re paid the (somewhat) big bucks for that first lead paragraph.

I’ve always found this to be true. I don’t know how many other reporters do this, but I sometimes find myself writing a story backward, literally, until the lead of the piece hits me. Again, I think this is a time thing. You’re on deadline and you cannot afford to agonize. You just have to start punching keys on the keyboard in an attempt to get somewhere. I suspect there are readers out there who believe everything I do is backward. Probably not far from the truth.

I write books that way sometimes, too. I had the end of my first novel, "The Vanilla Envelope," (the shoot-out in Stockbridge), done long before I started the beginning. Basically, I knew who was doing the shooting and who would get shot; I just had to figure out a way to get them all in the same place.

As I completed the sequel to that story, "A Disappearance on Stockbridge Bowl," I found myself in the same position. There’s a fairly violent confrontation at the end of this one, too and I had to get everybody to the scene -- plausibly -- to make it work.

But on the other hand, there are some stories that stretch out to me like Onota Lake. I can see the near shore, the far shore and everything in between. It’s just a matter of getting there.

Sometimes, it’s just a meeting story. Sometimes it’s more. I remember a story I wrote about my father and the 1943 undefeated Drury football team on which he played. The team was memorable for winning the county championship with only 18 players, having lost several young men to the service.

Anyway, that story opened up to me as soon as I began to write it. And I finished it, a 55-inch story, in about 45 minutes, believe it or not. (This is not counting fixing the spelling errors).

So have a good weekend. I’ll try to do better next week.

To reach Derek Gentile:,
or (413) 496-6251.
On Twitter: @DerekGentile


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