What inspires me to write changes from day to day. I’m sure that’s true for most of us.
I’m at my best when I feel like a writer every second of every day. Which means I’m absorbing inspiration and turning the best and worst moments of my life into art. That way, instead of feeling guilty about not writing, I tell myself I’m in input mode and just take it all in.
The Romantic poets did not chase inspiration. Instead of facing down the blank sheet of paper, they found ways to cajole the Muse into a visit. Wordsworth leisurely walked the Lake Country to let sun, wind, and rain fall upon him like so much inspiration in an intentional invitation to the Muse: Not chasing inspiration, just meditatively creating the conditions for her to arrive. Keats in particular believed in Negative Capability, that it was okay to embrace mystery and passively submit to the Muse. (I speak about Keats’ idea of Potentiality at length in an earlier post.)
I’ve never let writer’s block haunt me. Sure, I’ve procrastinated. I’ve put off writing. I’ve failed to make my butt meet the chair. A great post about procrastination by Dalindcy Koolhaven looks at the root causes and goes a long way towards discussing ways to overcome it. I put mine down to a sort of perfectionism; I’m an all or nothing kind of a gal. Whether it’s procrastination or writer’s block, it’s a bad habit. Like any bad habit, it can be broken by changing our paths: those patterns of thought and/or behavior that get repeated in spite of our best intentions.
There is a plethora of good advice out there concerning how to break the inertia and get back to the business of writing. The thing we need to do when we are stuck is shift: either do something differently or do something that is different.
Bloggeray offers up 6 Brilliant Ways to Avoid and Conquer Writer’s Block. I’m sure we can all find something we haven’t tried. (I particularly like his Charles Bukowski quote about writing about writer’s block when all else fails.)
One thing that helps me is to cycle through projects. I write poetry and prose. This keeps me from getting stale, and one genre informs another. There is a wise adage that says good writers simply write. Every time we sit down in front of a blank screen, if we write something, anything, we are developing a habit of success.
Years ago, I took a creativity in teaching course (which I never got professional development points for, but whatever). For the course, we used Aha!: 10 Ways to Free Your Creative Spirit and Find Your Great Ideas by Jordan Ayan, Rick Benzel. It was my first official exposure to coloring mandalas and collaging dream boards. I had fun doing activities and working with materials we usually associates with childhood: glitter, tambourines, blocks. The basic philosophy of the course was that fun and learning go hand in hand. As a writer, I’d say that our creativity needs that same kind of spark of joy.
Around that time my mother, an artist, recommended Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way: A Spiritual Path to Higher Creativity. Here you are supposed to follow a sort of prescription of inspirational activities, like visiting a museum, going to the movies, or taking a walk in the woods. It’s a great way to form a plan, to develop a form of discipline that actually can be a heck of a lot of fun. Art is work, but inspiration isn’t supposed to be.
Play a game with yourself, take on a role, and go to work. There are some interesting rituals practiced by famous writers.
According to A Shortlist article about writer’s daily rituals, Jane Austen played the piano, and Charles Dickens had to have his study “carefully arranged,” Then there are Roald Dahl’s famous sharpened yellow pencils and other quirky habits out there in his writing shed, described in A Writer’s Den. I have heard many a tale of the writer’s hat (although a writer’s socks, less so!) Virginia Woolf thought it imperative that writers, and female writers in particular, have privacy in order to write. Help Me Out of My Writing Closet has found a comfortable space (I love this post and its documenting of the transition from private to public writing). Some writers need to go somewhere, JK Rowling notoriously wrote on a train and in Edinburgh cafes (check out these awesome pictures from Crow Canyon Journal).
A Writer’s Path discusses some great advice in Why are Rituals So Important to Writers and Artists?, along with some cautionary remarks about marrying bad habits with your writing rituals.
At a free writer’s workshop at a local library a few months back, I got to hear some wisdom from Jack Tyler Jones, author of Adam at the End of the World and Things I Never Told David Bowie. The self-published, self-promoting author was generous with personal experience and enthusiastic about research. Research informs your work and increases authenticity. Scott Francis has this great article about “How to Research Your Novel”along the same lines as our discussion. I love that he says, “Just because you’re writing fiction, it doesn’t give you license to make everything up.”
Research is just another way to get the Muse talking. TAwrites about the inspiration of doing research in the children’s library. Not only do we get some cool resources, but the very process of getting down on the floor, amidst the noise and bustle of children, enjoying a visit to her the library with her own children, helps her to write within er genre of children’s book. The geography of the research place becomes as meaningful as the books she uses.
Using your senses, people watching, and going out into the world means just being engaged with reality. (Writing on a train or in a cafe didn’t work out so badly for Rowling, did it?) “Where can I find inspiration for writing?” from A Novel Journey lists five things that can get your fingers typing. As a dystopian writer, I’ve been particularly plugged in to the news lately. The news might be infuriating, but we can be mollified by the idea that at least we can write our way through it.
The other side of the coin is using our dreams. Write it Done has some great advice about how to tune into our dreams. If anyone has been successful in using a dream journal, please let me know. While I’ve used a dream or two in my fiction and poetry, I’ve never had the discipline to keep a journal.
In the end, I have found the thing that gets me writing is whatever reinforces the idea that I have readers. Attending a couple of writer’s circles this week, I went home and started incorporating some (not all!) of the critiques I’d received. I was so inspired I was late for my volunteer hours at the library and didn’t do my weekly grocery shop. Because I was writing my novel. Because once I start writing, it’s difficult for me to stop.
The trick, my friends, is to get started. The magic only happens when you put your butt in the chair.