Today I have an amazing writer here to write a Guest Post. I have been reading David’s Blog over at Occasional Dreams for several months and he always writes with such variety and vivid imagery. Please do click on the link to his page – you won’t be disappointed. I was delighted David agreed to write a ‘How to’ for my page and it is fitting that he chose to write about Finding Inspiration because he never seems to struggle to find ideas! I hope you enjoy:
Inspiration. Sweet Inspiration! The magic spark that suddenly ignites our creativity and transports us to new and fantastic worlds through words that seemingly write themselves. As writers, we long for it every day, we look for it in everything we see and do; sometimes it keeps up awake and sometimes we dream about it. It’s a funny old thing for sure. It can come from anywhere, at any time – sometimes at inconvenient times! Or it can come from nowhere, no matter how hard we look for it. And in those desperate times it seems the more we want it, the less it wants to be found.
We’ve all been there at some stage — I’m there most days. Some people call it ‘writer’s block’ — that state of staring at a blank page that stares back at you, as you feel a rising sense of panic taking you over. You convince yourself you’ll never be able to write again, you curse your lack of talent, you curse inspiration for abandoning you when you need it most. My wife is immune to my complaints about it now. She’s seen it enough times, how one moment I’m tearing my hair out, telling her how I’ll never be able to write again, about what a stupid thing writing is. And then the next imploring her to proofread my latest ‘masterpiece’ with my tail between my legs.
You see, even after all these years, I still forget that the best cure for ‘writer’s block’ is to write. But that’s easier said than done. It never feels simple or natural to just sit and write when you feel unable to. It doesn’t make sense. It feels like falling off a ledge. It’s scary. It’s paralysing. But sometimes, the only way to move forward is to fall. To embrace the fear, trust yourself and let go. I know it doesn’t make sense, but trust me, losing control may be the best thing you can do as a writer.
And that’s because all that wonderful inspiration lives below our conscious mind. Get below the surface and you’ll find lots of precious buried treasure. Okay great! So now we know what we ‘should’ do, how do we do it? Well, prompts are useful and everybody should now be familiar with WordPress’ own Daily Prompt. And there are many bloggers out organising their own you can participate in.
However, if you’re like me, sometimes you need more than a prompt word or a picture. And for those occasions, I have a number of techniques I fall back on to help me out.
Here are some of them.
Ten-Minute Timed Exercises
The ten-minute timed exercise is my most reliable way for beating a blank page. I write most of my stories this way before developing my ideas in subsequent redrafts.
The key to this exercise is learning to let go. As I’ve mentioned, writing freely can be extremely rewarding and we often surprise ourselves in the process. It’s crucial not to think during the initial stages of writing, thinking too much stifles creativity — save the thinking for the redraft.
Stephen King in his memoir On Writing talks about writing with the ‘door closed’. That is, write without judgment or pressure that anybody will read it. And Natalie Goldberg in her book Wild Mind: Living the Writer’s Life talks about writing with kindness to yourself.
And that’s where timed exercises are useful. To do this set ten minutes on the clock and write whatever comes to mind. Keep the hand moving and don’t think — that’s the important part. Stop to think and the ‘editor’ will pipe up and start intervening. Keep moving and don’t give them a chance! This technique is invaluable for getting below the surface. For me it is the key that unlocks the doors to that magical world of subconscious creativity.
Goldberg, in her book, offers some ‘guided’ ways you can use this exercise, for instance: write ‘I remember’ and keep going, go with whatever comes to mind. Don’t think. If you get stuck, then write ‘I remember’ again. Keep going for ten minutes without thinking. Then take a break and write ‘I don’t remember’ and go for another ten minutes.
Don’t worry if the results don’t make sense – our minds rarely do. The aim of this exercise is not to write a complete, polished piece of writing but rather to foster a sense of kindness and to write without thinking. And within the output you may discover something to inspire you further, perhaps a piece of dialogue, a character or a setting that will become the spark for a new piece of writing.
I will now discuss some other more ‘guided’ methods. But as always, try and let go and write freely and with kindness. Surprise yourself.
Choose a piece of writing you enjoy, it can be a story, novel or poem, and write down the first sentence. Now keep writing. Keep going and see where it takes you.
Another writer’s sentence will have a distinct mood and quality of its own, distinct from ours. This can be useful for taking us in completely new directions. You can always edit out the sentence later.
This time take the last sentence from a piece of writing you enjoy and write with those words in mind as your final sentence. Sometimes knowing how something will end, with a certain mood, can inspire you to fill in the blanks in ways you never considered before.
My piece In Consequence was originally written with this line from Albert Camus’ The Outsider in mind: ‘For the final consummation and for me to feel less lonely, my last wish was that there should be a crowd of spectators at my execution and that they should greet me with cries of hatred.’
Take a dictionary (or a random word generator on the internet) and select ten random words. Now start writing and incorporate those random words in order, keep going for as long as you can. Having a list of words to include can be useful for keeping momentum going and often brings about interesting changes of direction.
This one is fun and simply involves writing a paragraph starting with each successive letter of the alphabet and see where it takes you.
This is another one I’ve had success with in the past. Take a sentence from a book at random of at least ten words and write a piece using each word as the first word of a new sentence.
My piece Fishing for Kings was originally created using this sentence from Ian McEwan’s Atonement: ‘He had bought a large house in Clapham Common and hardly had time to visit it.’ My piece changed a bit over subsequent drafts but the spark came from that line.
I must admit I’m not much of a planner. I don’t usually know my characters at the time of writing, instead I prefer to ‘discover’ them while I write and develop them during redrafts. However, if you prefer to know who you’re writing about, then this is a method I’ve used on a couple of occasions.
Without thinking of the story write a few lines describing a character, their gender, age, appearance, mood, where are they, what are they doing. Now do the same for another character. Then have them meet somewhere.
I wrote my story Little Lines this way.
This one is perhaps the most challenging due to the number of articles on Wikipedia and may require a little bit of planning. To do this open up Wikipedia and click on the ‘Random article’ link four times. Make a note of those topics, choose three and write a story that involves those subjects. You don’t need to be too prescriptive — the topics are meant as a guidance only.
Unfortunately, I don’t remember the topics now, but my Moth Collector story about a retired man rekindling his interest for moth collecting was created this way. (I think the topics were something to do with the internet, a type of Costa Rican moth, and a Russian composer.)
Finally, I just want to mention mindfulness. It’s no coincidence that mindfulness and creativity go hand in hand. Mindfulness teaches us to be kind to ourselves, it encourages us to let go without thinking and ruminating in order to move forward — all the things I mentioned that are important for overcoming a blank page.
Whether any of these techniques inspire you or not, the important thing to remember is to keep writing – it really is the best way to beat a blank page. And most importantly, remember to write with kindness to yourself, without judgment. And then you may surprise yourself.
Many of these ideas have been adapted from these books.
Thank you David for guest posting; I’m sure many readers (including myself) will find your tips very useful in their writing.