Inspiration comes when you least expect it

Inspiration came to me in the form of a wine bottle label. The folklore for which the wine was named after formed a story in my head as I delicately sipped a glass of the bottle’s deep red, oaky liquid. I wasn’t prepared. In the midst of a wine tasting, I never expected my muse would hit me. The fear that I would forget the story boiled deep in my belly. Grabbing a tiny pencil, I flipped over my wine sampler list and ferociously started scribbling the plot that started taking shape in my brain. Everyone in the room thought I was mad; my friend laughed and said, “She’s a writer, this is normal.”

(c) markgraf

(c) markgraf

And this is normal. Writers have a different perspective of the world. We are artists and storytellers. Nothing it taken for face value and within everything we see a deeper meaning, a story waiting to be told. As a writer, you must always be prepared, on guard with pen and paper in hand. Inspiration will strike when you least expect it. If it isn’t captured or remembered, it will disappear faster than you can blink an eye.

Over the years, I have been caught off guard and many amazing stories have been lost in the fog of my horrible memory. Most ideas never see the light again and are forever lost in an abyss. It is a sad and dismal experience to go through the loss of a potential story idea. As a writer, I am sure you know what I am talking about. You have probably lost several ideas yourself. There are a few things that I have started doing, and since starting, it is rare that I ever lose an inspiration:

  1. Always, always, always have paper and something to write with stored somewhere on your person. Even if it is just a sheet of crumpled paper and a golf pencil, that is still enough to jot down an idea when it suddenly hits you.
  2. Have no paper? You have a hand. Act like you are in elementary school again and take notes on the back of your hand, around your wrist, up your arm, and so on.
  3. No pen or pencil? Improvise. I once dipped my finger in mud and wrote on a tissue. I also knew another author who used his blood and wrote on his t-shirt, but that was kind of gross. Yuck, germs!
  4. I bet your cell phone has a voice memo recorder. If not, there is an app for that.
  5. Or go buy a digital voice recorder  (if you want to be “old skool”, get one with cassette tapes). Voice recorders make for some of the best ways to record your inspirations. A word of caution: If you are detailing out a murder scene, it is best to do this in private where no one else can hear. You may get strange looks or the cops called on you.

There! You have no excuse to ever be caught unprepared should a story inspiration strike. Capture every idea that pops into your marvelous writer brain. You never know, one may be a best seller!

How are you prepared for when inspiration strikes?

Breaking the Word Blank

“One day, the songs stopped coming.  And while you’ve suffered from periods of writer’s block, albeit briefly, this is something chronic. Day after day, you face a blank page and nothing is coming. And those days turn to weeks and weeks to months and pretty soon those months have turned into years, with very little to show for your efforts. No songs.”  – Sting, 2014 TED Talk, Sting: How I started writing songs again

Writers of every style and form suffer from time to time where the slate goes blank.  Most would call this “writer’s block”.  I am not particularly fond of the term.  I find it too negative, which is counterproductive to creativity.  A block is something that I see as a brick wall, an impenetrable barrier.  Something that I am never getting through.  I attribute the term “writer’s block” to those things in my day-to-day life that keep me blocked from writing.  Things that are out of my control.

A blank slate, not being able to form your words is not writer’s block.  There is nothing substantial blocking you from writing but yourself and your mind.  It is something that can be overcome.  There is nothing impenetrable there.

Something has happened to cause this blank slate, and it is one of the most frustrating things for writer because it is 100% within our control.  Our page sits empty and nothing comes.  We have free time from family / work / responsibilities to dedicate to this craft and yet the page remains blank.

Why?

It is because for a moment, we have stopped thinking and fear of the words never coming back.  Internally, you go into a panic dreading that you will never write again, that the words will never come back.  It is self-sabotage and that causes your imagination to shut down.

The words have disappeared, however they are not blocked.  In actuality for this period of “blankness”, your words are just on vacation.  They are not choked from flowing, they just don’t feel like flowing.  Words need inspiration and stimulation.  Go hunt them down and bring them back to where you are.  Get your words and yourself back on track by starting at the beginning and stir that creativity pot.

No, I don’t mean that you have to start plotting or writing your piece all over again, but instead revisit the beginning.  Look at what originally fueled the flames of your imagination when the project began.  Reconnect with who you were at the start of the project.  Talk to the old you and your muse.  Find out what inspired you in the first place to get the imagination steaming.  In Sting’s experience, he had to physically go back to where he came from — back to the beginning of everything —  to get the words flowing again.  Where ever that beginning for you, that is where you have to get your words back from their margarita-filled holiday.  If you can’t take a break – neither should they.

Now, if you are starting fresh on a new project, and you are drawing a blank on how to get moving, Sting made an interesting point in his TED Talk, that I believe is a fantastic solution.  Think about others instead of about yourself.  Typically, writers tend to put themselves into their work.  And when the well runs dry within our own perception, shift to another person’s.  Look at someone else’s happiness and struggles, anger and passions.  Use those experiences, events, and emotions as inspiration for your words.

The times of blank slates are only temporary.  Your words are not gone forever.  However, you have to be proactive and can’t just sit by, waiting for them to return.  Go hunt them down!  Get yourself and your words back on track by re-exploring why you are writing.  Reconnect with your beginning and subject to your muse.  Your words will follow and flow.

Gaining Control of the Muse

I lost my muse a several months ago.  She went wild and crazy on me in June and then shortly disappeared after that.  She was gone, completely out of existence.  Her voice no longer chattered incessantly in my mind.  In her absence and out of boredom, I buried myself in life and work.  I lost touch with writing as I grieved her abrupt departure.

I know not to where she went, and by October I didn’t care.  I gave up her ghost.  Family situations arose, projects at work grew larger, and I slept when there was nothing else happening.  Writing did not exist, aside from the daily emails and technical documents.  Creativity was dead.

And I continued to morn.  I cried for her inspiration.  I cried for her voice.

Then one day towards the end of January, as I was driving to work and listening to NPR, I became drawn into a story that Eat, Pray, Love author, Elizabeth Gilbert, was retelling.  She described a tale of a musician who was stuck in eight lanes of famed L.A. traffic.  As this musician was minding his own business and staring absentmindedly out the windshield, the inspiration of a fantastic song popped into his head.  The song tumbled through his mind, down his arms, and into his fingers as he drummed out a rhythm on the steering wheel while singing the lyrics aloud to himself in his car. Then, he abruptly stopped and began frantically looking around the front seats of his vehicle for a pen, a piece of paper, something to write down his lyrical masterpiece.  Alas, his search was in vain, for no pen could be found.  He screamed out loud to the muse inside his heart, “I sit in a studio for eight hours a day, why do you not appear when I am sitting at the piano? Do not bother me when I am driving and have no way to capture you.”

And I started to chortle.  I laughed so hard that tears streamed down my cheeks.  I laughed so hard that I had to pull off the road until I could catch my breath and see clearly.

Here is a man whose muse continually shows up at the most inopportune moments, while mine completely vacated my life.

Then the world stilled and everything around me went silent. That is when I realized I needed to gain control of my muse.  Instead of allowing her to waltz in and out my life, showing her face whenever it pleased her, I needed to force her to present when it pleased ME.

And I beckoned her.  I demanded she show her face.  I demanded she make her presence known and provide me with inspiration.

She may have first sought me out, but now I am seeking her.  I am demanding that she needs be a part of my daily life.

And it worked.

She came back, waking me from a deep sleep last night.  In a stupor I stumbled from my bed, moving hastily to the office where I scrambled to grab a pen and paper.  Her sweet voice reverberated through my mind as I scrawled down what she had to say.  Seven months of pend up creativity spewed all over the paper and next thing I know, I have gone through almost half a ream of printer paper.  I spent five straight hours of writing down everything she had to tell me.

Staring at the flurry of script and holding my aching right hand, I graciously thanked her for returning. Then, I told her that she could give me inspiration whenever I am not working, sleeping, or driving.  And that I would hunt her down if she ever disappeared again.

So the message to my writing friends is to gain control of your muse. Tell your muse when you want him or her to show up.  Give your muse boundaries.  They want boundaries.  They want you to take control and force your creativity to suit your needs.