Goddess with Gift Basket, photo by Janet Riehl
Column by Janet Grace Riehl with Stephanie Farrow
Oh, those romantic notions about creativity. The best writers hang out in coffee houses, smoking foreign cigarettes, and wearing a hat, right?
Hardly! In practical creativity, externals don’t matter. Pretension doesn’t work. What matters is this: What’s inside you, and are you willing to work to pull it out? So cut the shuffle and ditch the beret; there’s no place to hide.
Last month (1.2) we discussed how to create a sustainable practice, dedicating scheduled time and space to your writing. The next step is to tap into your creative source How do you go about it?
As Thomas Alva Edison did, I believe that genius is 1 percent inspiration and 99 percent perspiration. The good news is that we can build inspiration into our practice. Inspiration is something we can and must generate for ourselves. Without it, your writing will be a very occasional happening.
To set yourself up for inspiration requires that you do the same thing you did in setting up your writing schedule. Take a look at your personal preferences, your likes and dislikes. You’ll stir up your creative juices by generating satisfying, stimulating activities.
Ask yourself about yourself and think of potential activities. Are you…
- Visual? Make a collage or do mind-mapping.
- Movement-oriented? Walking, yoga, or bicycling may be creative openers.
- Reflective? Try contemplation and meditation.
- Musical? Play the piano. Or wash the dishes listening to your iPod.
- Moved by ritual and ceremony? Light candles and say a little prayer.
- Responsive to the outdoors? Go to the park; bring bits of the outdoors inside.
You can brainstorm other ideas. It’s not any particular activity that’s important. Choose one that takes you to that place where you’re inspired to dig deeper—that 1 percent of inspiration that makes the 99 percent of perspiration worth it.
There’ll be days when you don’t feel inspired at all. It’s not cheating to use a commercial prompt, many of which are available for under $20. For example, for the card deck and kit lovers among us, check out:
- Observation Deck:A Toolkit for Writers by Naomi Epel.
- Freaking Magic Playing Cards David Robertson made from his photos and text.
- Magical Muse Cards by Hal Zina Bennett.
Try adapting cards designed for another purpose like the Mexican lotería cards. A friend wrote an entire poem cycle by drawing a card every morning.
Even better, make your own cards using photos, sayings, phrases, and images. It’s a popular activity I’ve done with writing students. Even though they make the cards themselves, they’re always surprised that the cards take them places they hadn’t anticipated.
Thinking inside the box isn’t always a bad idea. Make containers that act as brainstorming friends.
- Cut ideas into strips in advance, then draw them from a basket when you’re feeling stuck; or,
- Pack a suitcase or lunch box with anything that strikes your fancy: old calendars, postcards, or “go-to” books. (One of my favorites is If You Want to Write by Brenda Ueland.). Add inanimate objects to your inspiration box. They’re silent but you’ll bring your own words to the objects. It’s a dialogue; you’re speaking back to silent writing friends.
Remember not to use these ideas as a way to avoid writing. And don’t feel obligated to use any of them. If you’re hot, you’re hot. Sizzle on, girlfriend!
Don’t overlook the creative collaboration of a writing buddy. The relationship is more intimate and flexible than a critique group. It focuses on one person’s needs at a time and can take your writing deeper. Ultimately you have to do it alone, but you don’t have to do it without support.
So what’s the unromantic truth about writing? It’s our job to stimulate thought and then complete it. A mature writer ultimately finds companionship within the work itself.
I’ll be fielding questions about practical creativity—ones that emerge as you get deeper into your writing practice. Pose your questions via comments on this post or directly to me. You’ll find my contact email at www.riehlife.com.