Lather, rinse, write, repeat

Toy yellow duck in the bathroom on a light brick background

I get my best ideas in the shower.

I don’t know what it is. Perhaps it’s the repetitive routine of my morning suds-session that frees up my left brain. Could be that the shower is one of the few places I can’t wear my glasses, and I’m not distracted by the world around me. Or maybe the soothing lavender smell of my new body wash leads my mind to far-off places.

It’s backed up by science. One study showed that 72% of people get creative ideas in the shower.

Whatever it is, I wish I could bottle it and use it whenever I needed it.

Some people get their inspiration being active. One friend of mine gets magnificent ideas whenever she goes for a run. Honestly, when I’m running, I’m concentrating on putting one foot in front of the other. I wish it were not so—I’d love to be brilliant whilst burning calories. (Although this study by Stanford University suggests that maybe I should try walking.)

I’ve heard of writers who free their minds through cooking or baking. For me, that’s a recipe for disaster. I don’t have the skill necessary to whip up a killer guacamole and a surprising plot twist at the same time. Can you say ka-blooie?

I suppose I could try meditation, which is recommended to boost creativity at work. I could get into the deep breathing, the soft Enya-inspired music, and a scented candle or two…ha! Give me 60 seconds of that and I’m off to dreamland. Meditation may not be the best path to inspiration for the perpetually sleep-deprived.

So my solution is to hop in the shower. Making a slippery trail from bathroom to desk, I race to record those fleeting moments when I come up with something precious.

Jack London said, “You can’t wait for inspiration. You have to go after it with a club.”

Make mine a loofah.

What about you? How do you find inspiration?

Maria

Adapted from my original post on the Restless Writers blog, August 28, 2009. Photo by Depositphotos.

The magic of making it new

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“The writer shakes up the familiar scene, and as if by magic, we see a new meaning in it.” Anaïs Nin

One of the great joys of being a writer is to look at the world from a fresh perspective; to take in an everyday scene and make it new.

Take a look around. Reflect on the moments in your day. What richness surrounds you! A story emerges from every corner. A woman orders coffee at her local java joint. A man opens his front door after a long day at work. Someone picks up the wrong package at the post office. A company lays off half its workforce. A family in your town wins the lottery.

You get to take these everyday moments and interactions, and with your words, reveal something astonishing or disturbing or hopeful. Something that moves your reader. Something that is true.

Keep your senses open as you go through your day, and take note as those familiar scenes unfold. Take one that catches your attention, but change it. Swap the characters. Shift the setting. Explode the ending. Make it new.

That’s when the magic happens.

Maria

1 comment on “Confessions of an Idea Hoarder”

Confessions of an Idea Hoarder

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Imagine running out of ideas for your writing. It’s the stuff of nightmares. You sit down at your computer or pick up your pen, ready to leap into a new story, and there’s…nothing. The well has run dry. The spark has been extinguished. The horror, the horror!

I have plenty of challenges when it comes to my own writing, but running out of ideas isn’t one of them. My problem is usually the opposite. I have plenty of ideas. My idea cup overfloweth. Every day I get at least one new idea, if not more. I have ideas tucked into notebooks, written on the backs of phone bills, jotted quickly into Evernote or a draft text. I have ideas that I never got around to writing down, but they’re assembled in the central idea-hub of my brain, hoping to be plucked from the crowd and turned into something amazing.

It doesn’t seem like much of a problem, right? Isn’t it better to have too many ideas instead of none?

Generally, yes. But I hoard my ideas. That idea-hub in my brain? It’s jam-packed, and I’m not sure how much more I can cram in there. My ideas are spilling out all over the place. If I’m not careful, I’ll trip over a pile of ideas while trying to do something important, like cross the street or remember my sister’s phone number.

I don’t want to throw any of my ideas out—what if I lose my best idea ever? What if I need that idea again someday, when the ideas flow more slowly?

At the same time, I’d like to get rid of some of those ideas that—let’s face it—are just not going to work out. I’d like to free up some of my brain to focus on the ideas that I can craft into good stories.

Spring seems like a good time to give my idea-hub a thorough cleaning. I have decided to take the same approach I would take to spring-cleaning my closet: take everything and lay it all out to have a good look, and then divide all the things into four piles (or files, in this case): KEEP, REPURPOSE, DONATE, or TOSS.

Want to join me? Here’s how you can think about what goes in these piles:

  • KEEP: This pile is for those bright, precious, and meaningful ideas that you know will make great stories some day. They have longevity, impact, and potential. Keep these ideas in a file or notebook close at hand. Finish whatever it is that’s keeping you from pouncing on any one of them right now, or make the time to pick one and write it into being. Make a promise to yourself that you will focus on these beautiful ideas, one at a time.
  • REPURPOSE: You might come across ideas that area really not very good, but, when you take a closer look, you will see they have the kernel of something usable. It could be a word, a phrase, or a feeling it evokes—whatever it is, you can use that tidbit. You might also be able to re-work the idea into a different piece, like a poem instead of a novel, or a blog post or a drabble. Stash these ideas away, and see if you can work it into another piece later.
  • DONATE: Could someone else use that idea you don’t care for anymore? Give it away! Share it as a prompt on social media. Use it as an exercise for your writing group. Suggest it as an option for a fellow writer’s WIP. Be a good literary citizen, and support your fellow writers.
  • TOSS: Even the best ideas lose their luster over time. Maybe they are so dated that they are no longer workable. Maybe you came up with these ideas at a different time in your life, and now they make you cringe. You really don’t want your grand-kids to find these ideas in a dusty box in the attic after you are gone. So get rid of them. Delete, erase, bury, rub out, strike-through, burn. Make a ritual out of it, if you like, giving a small prayer of gratitude to your muse for giving you that whacked-out idea in the first place. And then get back to those good ideas.

Hopefully these tips will help you clear out some idea-junk, so you can focus on the ideas you can really work with.

Have fun with your spring cleaning—and your writing!

Maria

Photo by Glen Noble on Unsplash

Curiosity and creativity

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A good friend of mine is results-oriented to the extreme. He proceeds by tackling and completing tasks in a linear, structured way. He’s a writer too, and swears by detailed outlines, story-arc schematics, and rich character tables.

A few months ago, he confessed that he was dealing with writer’s block.

“I don’t get it,” he said. “I know exactly where my novel is going, and how my main character will overcome a critical internal conflict. I even have the final dramatic scene laid out in bullet points! But I can’t seem to get writing. I’ve set goals for myself, but all my deadlines have flown past—whoosh! It’s totally frustrating.”

I asked him if he’s ever tried a curiosity challenge.

A curiosity challenge is a technique I have used in the past to break out of a writing slump. I have used it when I’m on the verge of being burnt-out by my project, or when I need to re-kindle my passion for writing. I’ve also used it to generate prompts for writing exercises.

All that a curiosity challenge involves is reframing a goal statement into a curiosity question. It’s simple and powerful. Instead of setting a rigid word-count goal or deadline for yourself, try turning it into an experiment.

Frame your experiment with phrases like: “I’m curious if…” or “Is it possible to…” or “I wonder if…” or even “Wouldn’t it be cool to…”

Here are some examples:

Instead of saying this… …try this.
I have to wake up extra-early all week so I can meet my word-count goal. I’m curious if I can get up an hour early every day this week and wrote before my kids got up.
The only way I can make this submission deadline is if I write the whole thing this long weekend. Is it possible to write 10,000 words over one long weekend?
I have to focus on this chapter and finish it before I can move on with my novel. I wonder if I could write a scene from my main character’s dog’s perspective?
My revised chapter 1 is due to my writing group no later than April 1. Wouldn’t it be cool to share a revised draft of chapter 1 with my writing group next month?

This approach takes fear of failure out of the equation. If you’re anxious about not being able to achieve a writing goal, remove the anxiety by turning it into a game. If high pressure makes you heave, make it fun instead.

If you’re finding yourself stuck or blocked or bored, bring a sense of curiosity and wonder to your writing. Don’t plan; play. Be bold. Explore a possibility. Do something new just for the hell of it. Broaden your understanding of what you can achieve by just trying it.

Be ever-curious and challenge yourself to go beyond your normal routine. You’ll be surprised by how this simple approach can give your creativity a kick-start.

Drop me a line and let me know if this technique works for you!

Maria