I am a writer. That means I am compelled to write. It might be a journal, blog post, fiction, Bible study, Facebook status update, or even Tweet, but I must write. It’s been this way since childhood. When other children were drawing pictures, I was using those jumbo crayons to write. It didn’t bother me one bit that no one else could read what I wrote. I remember practicing my letters by writing with chalk all over the walls around the furnace in the basement when I was about four. I’m not sure if I got in trouble for writing on the wall or for playing by the furnace, but shortly after that I got my first real notebook. After starting school I got my first diary. It was a little green, five-year book with a lock. Just like Grandpa used. I obviously had more to write than Grandpa because I filled it in months. I haven’t slowed down much.
There are days when the need to write is strong, but the muse and words won’t come. The more I talk with other writers, I realize that I am not alone. After years of writing and teaching writing I have found many sources of inspiration to keep me satisfied when my own brain runs out of ideas. The following are not ranked by favorite or best, they are just the five I keep returning to.
- Nature: I love reading and writing in the fresh air. Mom provided evidence of my early love of outdoor reading. I find the words flow when sitting at a picnic table at the park or on a blanket at the beach or in a camp chair in a pasture. I get started by describing my setting and including as many sensory details as possible. Perhaps because I relax in nature and describing my setting acts as a warm up, but once that’s done it’s easy to get lost in my story.
- Podcasts: When I know I will have time to write later, or I’m scrounging for ideas, or looking to challenge myself, I love listening to podcasts. It’s also a great way to pass the time while doing those everyday chores we all dread. I listen to writing teachers, motivational speakers, Bible studies, lectures from forensic experts, extreme athletes, TEDtalks and NPR. So many ideas to consider and techniques to try.
- Reading: It doesn’t matter what I’m reading, there is always something to learn, even if it’s a negative lesson illustrating how not do do something. Poetry is a puzzle proving the importance of using just the right word and inspires me to keep building my vocabulary. Reading novels gives so many choices for ways to write descriptions and action and dialog and more. Biographies inspire me to keep plugging away. No one becomes successful overnight. As I heard on a podcast by Michael Hyatt, sometimes you just have to “practice not quitting.” Even the news provides daily doses of drama and crime. What more could a mystery writer ask for?
- Art: I am becoming increasingly aware of the importance of nurturing the creative parts of my
brain and spirit. An afternoon at an art museum shows the unlimited number of ways one can express an idea, culture, or emotion. Attending a concert is a multi-sensory experience if ever there was one. And following a favorite artist, especially one who blogs about her work, process, and inspiration, gives me no end of encouragement and ideas. (I’m working on another post that will address this further.) I’ve heard it said that writing is the ultimate form of abstract art. A writer only has twenty-six black squiggles to create worlds, colors, sounds, characters, and action. I find it so inspiring to observe how other artists create those abstract ideas with their chosen mediums.
- Outings: I have finally learned that when I’m really stuck for something to write it’s usually because I’ve spent too much time alone in my apartment. Interacting with real life and real people provides an almost overwhelming source of inspiration. Do something you enjoy, or do something new. Change your environment. Spend time with friends or people watching. Strangers inspire me to practice writing descriptions, dialog, and stories about what they’re doing and their motivation.
These are my five best suggestions for waking up the muses and finding inspiration. Hopefully you have other tips and tricks. If so, please share what gets your creative juices flowing in the comments.