A Writing tip from Moriah Hampton
Hair Splinters: Listen Before You Write
Estimated reading time: 3 minutes
Writing is about relationships—relationships we cultivate with ourselves, and our readers, subjects, and communities. To have good relationships, it’s important to listen. A conversation I had with my friend Gabby recently reminded me of the importance of listening for creative development.
“My boyfriend had to dig out one of my hair splinters,” Gabby said, looking at me in the mirror above her workstation at the salon.
“A wood splinter?” I asked, sure I’d misheard her.
“No, a hair splinter.”
Gabby went on to explain what hair splinters are and how stylists deal with them.
“Hair is sharp when it’s cut,” she said, “so it pierces the skin just like a wood splinter and gets stuck.”
I sat in the salon chair, entranced. Gabby had just shared an insider detail about her profession with me, one I never observed or imagined during prior visits.
On other occasions, I had observed the way Gabby moved cutting my hair—the way she held segments between two fingers while snipping off the ends or measured segments by pulling them straight on either side of my face. I had also imaged her life at home based on photos of loved ones hanging at her station. But through conversation, Gabby had offered an insider detail that gave me a different view of her world. Observation and imagination revealed only so much; listening revealed even more and altered my expectations of a hair stylist’s life.
Our conversation about hair splinters reminded Gabby of a story.
“Hair splinters can be nasty,” she paused, trying to recollect something she read or heard. I couldn’t tell which. “A man went to his wife one day and asked her help with a hair splinter,” she continued. “She got out the tweezers, pinched the strand, and began pulling and pulling and pulling…the hair kept coming, didn’t stop.”
“Who wrote this story?” I asked, convinced she must have read it.
“I heard it,” she said, “from someone. I forget who told me, but it’s true.”
Gabby’s lore about the hair splinter led to a story born from my interest in weird subject matter. Listening gave me backstage access to this bizarre detail, one that is now charting its own course through my imagination. This experience suggests the importance of listening to creative development. It also reminds us that creativity is not the province of a select few, but our birthright—and that, when shared, invigorates the creativity of others.
Bonus: In the mood for more hair horror? Check out Janet Burroway’s flash piece, “The Tale of Molly Grim” in Cleaver Issue 40!
Moriah Hampton received her PhD in Modernist Literature from SUNY-Buffalo. Her fiction, poetry, and photography have appeared in Entropy, Rune Literary Collection, Hamilton Stone Review, The Sonder Review, and elsewhere. She currently teaches in the Writing and Critical Inquiry Program at SUNY-Albany.