The other day, a new reader to my blog (welcome, Sarah) … asked me, “How do you decide what to write about? Where do you get your inspiration?”
These are in fact two separate questions and interesting to consider. One of the beauties of blogging is that you can write about whatever appeals to you and more importantly, what you feel will engage your readers. For myself, I know that I can only write convincingly about what I know and what I experience; hence the focus of my blog is necessarily on the important life lessons I am learning as I go along. My blog started out in a sense as a follow on to my book Into the Mourning Light under the heading of ‘grief and loss’ but the content has broadened in scope as time has passed. I don’t like my writing to appear to be formulaic, although it must of course contain structure and I know that I am a traditionalist in this respect.
I like my posts to carry a positive message.
I like my words to set people thinking; examining our thoughts and emotions is a good way to get to know ourselves better.
At certain times I will make a definite decision on my topic ahead of posting, and this is likely to be around significant dates in the year, – the anniversary of James’ passing, my feelings around grief vis a vis holidays and events etc. But more often than not, the decision for my writing relies on an intuitive message. Sometimes I wake up with half-formed thoughts that I immediately scribble down, at others I may have a blog post that seems almost to write itself as I sit at the laptop.
When I started the blog in June 2014, I set myself the goal of posting once a week through a full year. That felt like quite a pressure, but as it turned out, each week something would be written, whether or not it was pre-planned. But after a year, I felt there was a danger of blog overload for my readers as well as myself, so now I tend to write only when I feel that I have something useful to share. Despite a fear of running out of words, I still have plenty to say! Like any other muscle, the creative writing muscle responds to being exercised and to quote Stephen King,
“If you want to be a writer, you must do two things above all others: read a lot and write a lot.”
Inspiration is another matter altogether. Ideas are stimulated by outside influences. The trick is to be able to interpret what is inspiring you and translate it into words. Naturally, if you are creative in other directions, inspiration may lead you to compose music, or draw and paint, or produce any other of the myriad results of creativity. You cannot force creativity if there is no inspiration in the first place.
My inspiration comes from many different sources. It may be a sentence I have read, a snatch of conversation I have heard, a radio interview, a photograph or painting, or a note I have written in a notebook kept expressly for the purpose of such jottings. Once on a train I wrote down what I heard one woman say to another,
“Who would have thought it was having salmonella that revealed his duplicity?”
I have no idea whom or what she was talking about, but it struck me at the time that this would be a brilliant opening line to a story, but I have never been able to take it any further. I wish I knew what it was all about!
Should you find yourself short of inspiration, draw upon your writerly toolbox. This will contain some basics that work for you. For example, it is a useful trick of writers to use the tool of the five senses in a descriptive piece of writing. This week I enjoyed a walk in the autumn sunshine along the canal path, one of my favourite places to go to restore my sense of equilibrium.
I saw beautiful mellow light reflecting off the water like molten gold
I smelled a mossy scent drifting up from the soft ground in the afternoon sun
I tasted the sweet tang of late brambles beside the path
I heard the occasional splash as acorns dropped into the canal
I felt the crackle of dry leaves underfoot and the dampness of the heavy dew that lay on the grass….
And then there is the sixth sense, the imagination, fed by your own intuition that forms the words into lines and the lines into paragraphs. You cannot help but feel uplifted if you are amidst the simplicity of nature and this certainly aids creativity. Nature is a great solace.
It is important to the flow of creativity to be feeling positive. It is so much harder to write positively if you are feeling negative. If you are assailed by a block, take yourself to a favourite quiet place. Stand firm in your own space. Take time to breathe, balance yourself and enjoy being in the moment.
Sometimes, the quality of your writing may not be tip top, but you will feel that you have achieved something simply by putting words on the page, and it does not matter if your pearls of wisdom are not up to sharing. You have exercised that creative centre in your brain, and tomorrow you may write something better. It is very hard to be original because so many writers have already written so many words … nonetheless each writer has their own individual writing voice that allows them to put an original take on a hitherto expressed sentiment or idea.
The simplest things can be a starting point for writing. I made a cup of tea. I took the milk from the fridge. I rhymed milk with silk. Then I thought about the milk of human kindness, milking something for all its worth, milky light and a child’s milky moustache. I thought of the silken threads that bind us to our loved ones. And there you have it, just in the simple act of making a cup of tea, there is the start to possibly a poem, or a story, or a feature peace. Creativity at its most basic!
Let us not forget the other meaning of inspiration …what is it that we all do without thinking about it? We inspire air into our lungs …. And that inspiration is life-giving and essential.
Writing inspiration may not be life-giving but it certainly breathes life into words on the page.