Gwynn and Ruth are on vacation for the next couple of weeks. So we’re bringing back a couple of our favourite Top Drawer topics to share with new readers and to nudge long-time followers. This week is Ruth’s May 2016 post on finding inspiration. So get out there this summer and give your muse a change of scenery too.
Ruth E. Walker
I recently delivered a workshop at a writers’ conference: From Inspiration to Publication. In 2.5 hours, I was supposed to shine a light on the path almost every writer dreams about: being published. Frankly, this path can never be illuminated in such a short time. In fact, I could plug in a dozen klieg lamps and have an infinite amount of workshop time, and I’d still leave the bulk of that path in shadows.
That’s because for each writer, the path to publication is individual and endless. And it is filled with missed opportunities, wrong turns and dead ends. But for successful writers “publication” is not a single event. It is a series of acceptances, right turns and new paths that keep them inspired through all the rejections and disappointments.
Successful writers keep shining their headlights down that path because they know two things:
- getting published should not be a one-time goal, and
- they only need to shine their light forward to keep going
It’s beyond discouraging to repeatedly receive rejections. So how to keep your muse motivated? Finding and then holding on to your inspiration can be key to keeping your light shining down the writer’s path.
So let’s get started.
- Leave your comfort zone behind: a change of place, space or pace can allow inspiration to sneak up and surprise you; if you can’t change your environment (travel or try out writing in a coffee shop, for example) give freefall writing a try (timed writing with no editing, no stopping, no internal editor allowed.) You’ll be amazed with what happens when you let yourself go to follow the energy.
- Visit a used bookstore and browse: old book titles, names of authors, a line from a book and even the smell of old paper can trigger ideas.
- Find contests with deadlines: a contest theme can trigger plenty of writing or, even better, remind you that you have a story on file to fit that theme!
- People watch with a notepad: keep to reportage (just the facts) to record the behaviour, clothing, dialogue that passes by. Pull it out and flip to a random page when you need to nudge your muse.
- Visit graveyards and museums: imagine the stories behind all those dates and names (old gravestones and small local museums can be especially intriguing.)
- Read outside your interests: essay collections, science journals, biographies, and so on will let you tap into a rich vein of interesting topics.
- Get out into nature and leave technology behind. If the landscape doesn’t trigger your muse, being in the open air with only scenery to distract you just might be the space your creativity needs to surface.
Inspiration for writing can come from so many places that I could keep writing this post for weeks. But what these tips all have in common is encouragement to explore. Writers are the adventurers on the open seas of life: we travel in our imaginations and write all about it. If you keep your light pointed into the distance then you should always be ready to find your stories.
Freefall writing was first coined as “Mitchell’s Messy Method” by W.O. Mitchell (Who Has Seen the Wind) when he taught creative writing at university. It became “freefall” over time. There are variations used by many creative writing teachers, but when Gwynn or I lead a freefall, these are our main points:
- Be present (meditation before you start is helpful) and follow the energy
- Write what comes up
- Use the senses — taste, touch, smell, sound and sight
- Be specific — not “the car” but “the fire engine red two-door convertible”
- Keep writing even if all you can start to write is: I can’t write. This is dumb. Why am I doing this? –eventually, the tension will trigger new energy for you to follow
- Resist the editor — don’t stop to “fix” things
- Go Fearward — W.O. Mitchell’s best advice ever
Freefall prompt and exercise: Set your timer for 20 minutes. Close your eyes and allow yourself to be quiet and still. Count backwards slowly to zero from fifteen. When you get to zero, start your freefall writing with this opening sentence:
The door opened and I stepped inside.