Exploring ways of filling our creative wells in the midst of chaos and uncertainty. Episode 25 of my Staycation Podcast.
Why writers need to behave like athletes
A couple of months ago I went searching for a new writing app, and stumbled across Novlr. One of the things I like about Novlr is the dark background which is easier on my eyes. I’ve been using it for my work ever since. It also has a fantastic free writing course, the Couch to 80k Boot Camp by novelist and poet, Tim Clare.
In my experience it’s all too easy to forget how important it is to warm up with our writing every day. I’ve wasted countless hours staring at a blank page or screen, groaning under the strain of trying to force my writing muscle into action when it very clearly wants to sleep. Yet since discovering this course, with just ten minutes of writing a day, I’ve found that when I do now sit down for the main event I’m so much more limber and agile and I have a new-found confidence in what I’m doing that I never had before.
It really is a brilliant course. I can’t say enough about it. The clever way in which it slowly builds on itself and navigates so many areas of the creative writing process without you even realising how much you are growing is simply thrilling. Clare is a master when it comes to teaching, and listening to him prattle on a bit only makes it more disarming and accessible.
The fantastic news is that there’s more even after the course has ended. Clare is a prolific podcaster and his Death of 1000 Cuts podcast is available online and via iTunes. This is such a gift to us as writers and I’m extremely grateful to him for providing us with so much inspiration and for helping me warm up my writing muscles.
There’s more inspiration to be found all over the Internet and in many book shops, if you know where to look. For example, the San Francisco Writers Grotto have produced a book called “642 Tiny Things to Write About.” Whilst a bit more random, and not as sequential, as Clare’s warm ups, they can certainly breath new life into a tired mind.
Above all else, warm up! It’s not wasted time, quite the contrary. It helps you save time later by giving you the life and energy you will need for the big race. It has helped me learn how to play, have fun, and think outside the box. It has helped me grow in confidence, and not to strain my brain in trying to force it to run before it can walk. What I find it prefers to do now is dance. I hope you find it works for you too.
All my life I’ve enjoyed being around creative people. Regardless of how they express themselves, something inside me comes alive when I’m in the company of writers, artists, musicians, dancers, actors and the like. They make me want to burst and express myself in a new way. They make me feel most alive.
My mum was at Oxford with Lucia Graves. A writer and creative in her own right, she is also the daughter of World War I poet Robert Graves, who is best known for writing I Claudius. During a number of summers we would go out to Deià, Majorca, and stay with the family. Robert was a magnate for creative people. Across the road from the houses, amongst the terraced olive groves and the sheep and goats with the clanging bells, he built a small amphitheatre. It was here that he would perform his poems. It was also the venue for plays put on by members of the Royal Shakespeare Company who happened to be spending the summer there. I will always remember the night I did the thunder sheet for the Tempest.
Then there were the dinners on the terrace, the chatter, the laughter, the candles flickering in the evening light. After clearing the table one night a dancer from the Royal Ballet taught us how to jump and spin our way across the flagstones.
Towards the end of his life Robert was sadly struck with Alzheimer’s, a particularly cruel illness for such a great mind. As I sat next to him one evening as the adults were in the kitchen washing up he gently lifted his hand and put it in the pocket of my big baggy dress. It was as if he had taken my hand and we sat there, an old, drooling man in a wheelchair, a young girl of nine full of hope for the future. This was communication on a level way beyond words.
His wife came out to wipe down the table. She stopped and smiled and said, “if he’d been able, he would have written a poem about you.” Then she stopped some more and considered. “Wait, what I see before me right now is poetry.” That moment changed my life. It made me look at the world in a completely new way, and in that second I decided I wanted to be a writer.
I still surround myself with creative people. I go to concerts and hear incredible music, attend plays, visit galleries, read great books. All of these things and all of these people, along with fantastic sunsets, laughing children, and the moments like that on the terrace in Deià touch my soul, pump my heart, and revitalise my mind. These are my muses, what are your’s?
Most writers carry a notebook around with them wherever they go. Whether electronic or paper, they recognise the importance of recording every good idea they have. But where do these ideas come from, and how can writers get more inspiration for their work? Is your ‘inspiration well’ running a little dry? Then you’ve come to the right place…
- Sight – Take time to stop and look at the world around you. Whether it be a beautiful landscape, an expression on someone’s face, or a bag of knitting sitting haphazardly next to an empty chair, write it down! Collect images and scribble them in your notebook. You never know where they might lead. I had an idea for a story just from seeing a broken watch lying in a drawer. What do you see around you? Write it down!
- Sound – A piece of music playing on the radio, the waves crashing on the shore, a child laughing. All of these sounds are absolute gems for your work and you need to get used to writing them. So often writers spend a great deal of time writing about what they see, and not enough time exploring the other senses. What can you hear around you right now? Write it down!
- Touch – You’ve probably figured it out by now, I’m working through the senses. But humour me a bit here. When was the last time you really took time to describe how something felt to the touch? What does it feel like to hold a new born baby in your arms? Describe walking barefoot through dew-drenched grass. What does it feel like to get sunburn because you stayed out too long? Close your eyes a moment. What can you feel right now? Write it down!
- Taste – Do you rush your food to the point that you don’t take time to taste what you are eating? Slow down! Consider it research and savour the different tastes of the food you eat. Drinking an iced-mochachino is definitely very different to working your way through a hot curry. Describe it. Write it down!
- Smell – The single-most memory-inducing sense we have and the one we describe least in creative writing. The smell of petrol at the gas station. The smell of bread baking in the oven. The smell of a wood fire. What can you smell right now? Write it down!
- Feelings – Whether it be joy, anger, fear, disgust, or sadness our emotions are an incredible source of inspiration for our work. Make friends with your feelings! Give them air time and write them down. Observe the emotions of others and do the same. The more comfortable you become in describing the feelings of your characters the more authentic your work will be.
- Thoughts – Same as feelings. In order to be able to get in the head of your leading character you first need to be comfortable in your own head. Spend time just thinking. Don’t worry what comes into your head, whether it’s thoughts about what you might have for dinner, a reminder to call someone that has been on your mind, or the meaning of life, write it down! – BTW the answer is always 42!
- Dreams – Every writer should keep a notebook by their bed. If you don’t have one, get one. Dreams are a fantastic source of inspiration. I once had a dream that a girl who worked in a restaurant was being blackmailed to serve a man a poisonous dish of food. Random I know, but I wrote it down and it may yet appear in some of my work. Write down your dreams!
- Muses – Other people are an excellent way to gain inspiration. I am fortunate enough to be surrounded by creative people who spark ideas, get me motivated and drive my dreams. They don’t all have to be writers. They just have to be creative. Some are musicians, artists, crafters, and dancers. All inspire me to write it down!
- Imagination – Finally there is the illusive imagination. If you’ve had a lot of people burst your bubbles over the years you may find it difficult to let rip. There may be an internal voice deriding any wild and crazy ideas you have. If this is you my best suggestion would be to write that voice down and then kill it off! You have the power to do in literature would you would never (hopefully) do in real life. Kill! Kill! Kill! Anything that gets in the way of you writing down the wildest and craziest ideas which pop into your head. Then write those ideas down!
Here are my top ten ways to get inspiration. What are some of your’s. Please add them in the messages below.