Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Smoke, Water and Fire

If people start to find out that you are a writer, sooner or later you will be asked the big question: Where do you get your ideas?

(by the way, my standard response to that is "Wal-mart".)

You can be as snarky or as in depth as you would like with answering that question. This post isn't about what non-writers think or want to know about our proses. Let's face it, even if we do try to explain it to them they probably won't get it.

How I see it, inspiration is all about paying attention. When I go for a walk, sometimes I'll notice how the wind feels as it blows by. The sound of it as it sweeps through the dried skeletons of grass along side the road. Another day I'll notice deer hoof prints along side the road and follow them until they disappear back into the bushes. Or when I blow out a candle, I love watching the smoke twist and curl in the air before disappearing into nothing.

It's not big things that feed my creative soul, it the little things. Not the rolling field, but the line of ants on the path in front of me.

Sometimes I find my creative well is getting low and I'm feeling drained. I find it helps me to fill it by looking for some of these little things. I surround myself and my writing space with things that inspire me. Three of my favorite things are smoke, water and fire. So on my desk I have several candles and an incense stick holders. As of yet I don't have a water element, but I'm still looking for just the right thing (probably going to be a fountain of some sort).

When I sit down to write and I feel like I need something to focus on and draw from I lite those candles and incense. It brings my mind back to where I need to be to write.

Everyone is different and each of us will have something different that inspires. Look for those things and try to bring at least some part of that into your writing space. And never stop looking for those little things that bring joy or make you think. You never know what will inspire.

Saturday, August 6, 2011

Journals: Why I can't use them

(Lucy & Alastair, this is for you)

Journals. Those wonderful bundles of beautiful pages wrapped in leather, moleskin, plastic or cardboard (depending on how cheep you are).

I love journals. Particularly those fabulous leather bound ones with textured natural paper. I love them. LOVE. The problem... I just can't bring myself to use them.

It's the same every time. I go to the store, ogle and fondle each book. My fingers caress that one special journal and I clutch it to my chest as I make my way to the cash register. Then I get home, sit down ready to put my brilliant words onto theses beautiful pages. My pen hovers over the paper and... and... all those brilliant words suddenly seem dull and stupid. I can't put THAT on the first page! I need something poignant. Something inspirational. Something... better then what I can come up with.

Defeated, I put the journal on the shelf to wait for that striking bolt of inspiration. After a year or two I began to realize that I would never be able to use them. I was just too scared to make a 'mistake'. Of course the whole point of a idea notebook or journal is to jot down silly weird ideas that maybe you can use later. It's not supposed to be perfect, but I could never get over the fact that I paid $10, $15 or more for this @#&%! journal and I better damn well put something good in it to justify spending that much.

Soon I realized that all my best (and worst) ideas were written on the back of napkins, junk mail envelopes and wrinkled scraps of paper. Why was it so easy for me to write on those and not my fancy journal? Because they were cheep. I didn't feel pressured to write anything good, so I just wrote what I felt like. I let my creative juices flow because it's just a piece of junk mail, it's not like I can make it worse.

The next time I went to the store, instead of picking up a shiny leather bound beauty, I found the cheapest 5" x 8" notebook I could get. I got a three pack and brought it home. That was a couple years ago and as you can see from the picture, it's worked quite well for me. Each of those notebooks is filled with scribbles (and I mean FILLED). Some brilliant. Some, well, less so. But you can't get to the good stuff until you get the bad stuff out of your head. If you feel the pressure to put only good stuff in your beautiful journal, then maybe going simpler (and cheaper, I'm always for the cheep) will work better for you. I carry one with me everywhere now.

It's only a few dollars to give it a try (that's the beauty of it).

Friday, August 5, 2011

Try, try again

I love trying new things. Kissing the frog and finding a prince... or just another slimy amphibian. Trying and trying and trying. It's an adventure each time, but sometimes you need to go back to those first princes you found and smooch them again.

This past week or two I've been having trouble focusing on my writing. I sit down to write and I know the story is there, but my mind is a jumble. It takes me a few moments just to remember what I was doing with this scene, then I start and after just a few paragraphs I've forgotten again what I was doing. Distractions abound. Did I change the laundry? Damn, I forgot to wash the dishes yesterday. Did I answer that email? It's hot again today, I really need to water the garden. And on and on and on.

This isn't the first time I've had trouble like this. It's a fairly common problem for me. In the past I've used music to tune everything out, but it wasn't working this time. So now what? Look for another way to focus? What can I try that I haven't done already?

Then I realized that I don't have to find something new. I needed to go back to something old.

When I first started looking for ways to focus myself during my writing time I would light a candle (actually I would light nearly a dozen candles) and pull out an incense stick with one of my favorite scents. I haven't lit a candle while writing for... oh dear, over a year now. I only seem to need them when I'm having trouble, so one I get into the flow of a story I fall out of the habit of using them. I was starting to think that I had "out grown" them entirely.

Then last night, on a whim, I pulled out an incense stick and lit it. As soon as I stuck the stick in the little holder and watched the first curls of smoke twist and drift in the air I remembered why I love watching incense sticks burn. Smoke is to fluid and ethereal. It moves and turns and dances, but you can never actually touch it. All the little voices in the back of my mind quieted and I just sat for a moment watching the smoke drift, familiar scents bringing me back to the joy I had writing in those early years. It was exactly what I needed.

So next I pulled out the box of candles that I had packed into the closet, set up all my little dancing flames around the computer, just like I used to years ago. Then I started to write. Almost immediately I fell into "the Zone". There’s something relaxing about telling time by how short your incense stick has become. When the stick was all burnt up (that's about an hour) I found that I had finished my day with 2k new words and some really good scenes. I felt refreshed, revived. I had accomplished more then I had meant to and I went to bed happy.

So if you try something and it works for one story then stops working for the next, don't throw that idea away. Keep a box of ideas (or at least a mental list) and periodically go back and try things again. Who knows, something that didn't work for you before might just be the very thing you need now.

Never stop trying. Never stop experimenting. You might be surprised at the results.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Dear Story

Dear Story,

You know I love you, my story, but I do wish you would have told me that where I started writing was actually chapter two and not the beginning. That is kind of something that would have been nice to know before I change the beginning and am then forced to change what I have written already.

But that's all right, my story. I still love you in your beauty. I realize now that my first impressions of you were shallow. Now I am starting to understand your depths and just how complex this project is going to be. I will admit, my story, you're starting to scare me a little, but we'll keep pressing through.

Hopefully all theses knots will untangle as we go.

Still you sincere, if a little intimidated, admirer,