Tag Archives: inspiration

Three Tips to Beat Writer’s Block

It happens to us all – we’re in the middle of a piece of work and it is just inspired. Everything flows. The words fit perfectly. The idea is seamless and flows like the Nile forming an oasis in a desert of blank pages.

And then the phone rights. Or you get an email alert that snaps you out of the zone. Maybe someone knocks on the door. Whatever happens and then the zone is gone.

Writing all of a sudden becomes like pulling teeth – painful and extraordinarily uninspired. Things on the page that were once beautiful now turn to pure dung and nothing you do seems to redeem the words on the page or match the perfection of what came before.

Pictured: What it feels like to write after you’ve lost the flow.

I do advocate having a set time to write and minimizing interruptions during these writing periods, but that doesn’t mean that an inspired state of mind doesn’t help with the workflow, and when that streak is gone, it can seem impossible to begin to write again.

These three tips help me get back into the flow of writing once I’ve lost it, and hopefully they’ll help you too.

Traveling This Summer? Keep a Journal!

In the summer of 2012 I traveled to China. It was a great experience, and I was super busy all the time. I never found time to write or keep a journal, but my roommate for the trip did. I’m fairly sad that I didn’t set aside the time to do the same thing.

What really impressed me about her journal was that it had writing prompts for her to respond to for each day she was gone. Her friends and family had gotten together and had come up with the writing prompts for her. They then wrote the prompts within a notebook and told her to not look ahead and to just fill in the page for the day’s writing prompt.

I did have fun taking photos, at least. My group was super annoyed that I took so long, but hell, they turned out awesome.
I did have fun taking photos, at least. My group was super annoyed that I took so long, but hell, they turned out awesome.

Besides being a totally awesome gift idea for friends or family that are traveling abroad, this is also a great tool for a writer. I have my memories (and a crap ton of pictures on my Facebook) of the trip, but I don’t have my emotional responses or thoughts documented from my time over there.

My Brain got Stuck in a Rhyming Loop

When it comes to creative projects at school, my go-to is poetry. I had a big creative project due in one of my classes this past week, and I decided, since it was for Arthurian Romance, to imitate the Medieval French style of poetry. For a week solid, I was spending my nights creating plot and writing in rhyming couplets.

Let me tell you about rhyming couplets.

Door-hinge? I guess that rhymes with orange. Try working that into a poem organically.
Door-hinge? I guess that rhymes with orange. Try working that into a poem organically.

At first, it really isn’t that easy to do. I tend to use a rhyming dictionary when I start out, because my brain isn’t in rhyming mode yet. For the first few days working on an epic, 15 page poem written in eight syllable rhyming couplets, the rhyming dictionary is a godsend. I also use an on-line thesaurus to find words of varying syllables so I can force my thoughts into the eight syllable mold. A thesaurus is also useful in finding words that have the right concept behind them and easy rhymes – for example, the word orange is a jerk when it comes to rhyming, but using a thesaurus gives me all kinds of other options to that dreaded word – warm, flame, gold, etc., which are all much easier to rhyme with.

As time passes, however, these tools fade as the brain starts thinking in rhyme. I’m not kidding – on the third day of working with my project until the day it was due, my brain was rhyming. And so the downside of rhyming started to kick in.

Want to Learn a New Literary Technique? Turn to Disney.

While Disney is controversial in the feminist realm for weak female characters, selling the image of a passive woman being the only desirable type of woman and a host of other things I won’t list here (but will rather link the reader to instead), at the root of every Disney story is writing from a team of talented individuals that know what they are doing.

For a well written theme, look no further than the Disney classics. Theme is defined as the main topic of a text, or in this case, movie. In Disney’s Hercules, for example, the main theme is true strength comes from sacrifice. Looking back even further to earlier movies like Sleeping Beauty, strong, well-represented and almost cliche themes like true loves conquers all are clearly portrayed throughout the film.

And I shall awaken her with true love’s kiss, and if that doesn’t work, I’ll just be some kind of weird pervert that kisses sleeping 16 year old girls.

Everyday Inspiration

I don’t like to make generalizations, but let’s face it, book lovers and writers tend to be an introverted bunch of people. We like to live vicariously through our stories—which is good because as much as I like reading about the zombie apocalypse, I’d rather not live it.

As far as writers go, most of the ones I know tend to fall on one side of the same coin. They are either, like me, of the get-out-there-and-experience-shit variety—because what better way to write about it? Or, they tend to be of the aforementioned introverted type. The classic writer, locked away in his room typing away.

But it’s important, regardless of what kind of writer you are, to get out there and experience life because inspiration can strike in the strangest of places. Here are just a few tips how:

Take Public Transportation

I have a few poems and short stories that have been inspired by a trip on the bus or train. Buses and other forms of public transit tend to be places where you can find all types of people and personalities. You can be sitting next to someone who’s homeless or someone who owns their own company.

Sometimes, being so close to strangers leads to some pretty memorable experiences.

One time, on my way to the Greyhound station downtown, a couple boarded the MAX together. The woman was swaying and slurring her words. It was 7 a.m. She was saying goodbye to the man she was with, but she wouldn’t leave, no matter how many times he asked her. The lights on the doors flickered. “The doors are closing,” a woman’s voice said on the loud speaker. But each time the door attempted to shut, it was stopped by the woman’s large bottom and wide hips. She swatted at the door like it was a fly.

It was a little funny and sad. And when she started yelling and another man on board started yelling back, a tiny part of me was even afraid. But then it ended. And I wrote it down. An anecdote in a larger story.

Walk Through the City

Deadlines: Friends or Foes

I’m a writer, sometimes. What do I mean by that? Well, I write, but not all the time. I have school and work and friends and sleep. All of those things keep me from writing on a regular basis, but when I know a deadline is coming up, suddenly I find the time to write.

I don’t know what it is about a deadline – perhaps it’s my previous experience writing for a magazine, or my training as a student, but deadlines inspire me.

I can go almost a full year without writing poetry, even when I set aside time just to sit and write and work, but when a deadline is coming up for a journal I want to submit to, suddenly inspiration strikes.

I can go through painful breakups, I can see the most beautiful sunset, I can have my life flash before my eyes but these things don’t drive me to write. A due date gets me going, somehow.

Even my trip to The Great Wall of China didn't yield the same amount of poetry a looming deadline inspires.
Even my trip to The Great Wall of China didn’t yield the same amount of poetry a looming deadline inspires.

And now I ponder, how can I drive myself to write without having to wait for upcoming deadlines?

Shaped Poetry

I wouldn’t call myself a poet, but I do write poetry and do pursue publication of my poems. One weakness I have for poetry is shaped poetry. I’ve tried my hand at it many times, but outside of one shaped poem I’ve completed, I haven’t really fell in love with any of my shaped poems.

John Hollander, a well known American poet, makes some fascinating shaped poetry. For example, his cat poetry:

I want to pet his words.

The Things We Do Instead of Writing

With no papers due and no pending deadlines for any of my writing projects, I find myself unmotivated to write on a regular basis. Even when I sit down to write – pen in hand or keyboard under finger – I start to create this long imaginary list of other things I should be doing. Soon, it’s too late for me to write, or I’m too tired, or I want a break after doing said list of things. There are some very specific things that pop into my head that prevent me from being a good writer and actually writing. I know I’m not the only writer out there to do this.

One of my professors commented that, anytime she has a book to write, she suddenly remembers that she has dirty dishes in the sink, and that her floor sure could use a mopping, and man, when was the last time she vacuumed? We all have our little ticks that prevent us from doing the writing we set out to do.

The holidays, for example, easily break up our normal routines. Even if you have a normal writing schedule, it’s hard to stick to it with the obligations of the season. It’s hard to say “listen, family/wife/kids/friends, I know we’re supposed to be opening presents right now, but I really have a writing schedule I need to stick to. It’s not that you’re not important, it’s just that if I break my schedule it might be really hard to get back on it. You understand, right?” The answer to that would probably be no.

Unless you plan to give your family disappointment for the holidays, you should probably not use writing as an excuse to skip out on the festivities.

For me, most of the gifts I give during the season are handmade or homemade. I love to crochet and bake cookies, and both activities tend to occupy my hands and my mind so soon writing is completely pushed out of there. Even after the holidays, my brain is still in crochet mode – I’m working on two bags and one hat, at the moment, instead of my poetry or my short stories.

Dreams as Inspiration

I don’t really keep a dream diary, but I know of a lot of people that do. Dreams can be weird sometimes. For example, last night I had a dream that I was fighting against an alien invasion at a base that was a super Home Depot and humanity lost, then I had to write an essay on why I loved my new alien overlord. But sometimes dreams aren’t so weird, or parts of weird dreams can be used as inspiration for writing. Below are some best-selling books inspired by dreams.

Robert Louis Stevenson woke from a strange dream of a doctor with split personalities and completed The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde ten days after he awoke.

Some Poetry to Inspire Voting

While I am an English major and I adore literature, I am also a political science minor, civically engaged, and a supporter of social justice.

Voting is important, especially in mid-term elections. For some reason, people forget that local government is the form of government that has the most immediate control over their lives. The presidential elections tend to draw the biggest crowds but it’s at the local level that a lot of federal policies and actions are carried out.

Local ballot measures, judges, state representatives – I don’t care which way you vote on these, just get out there and vote. If you feel that you’re ill informed to make a decision based off of a lack of information, you can either do a little bit of research using your smart phone before you enter the voting booth, or you can always skip voting for a portion of the ballot. But getting your voice out there on the issues you are aware of and the people you do support is vital to the democratic process.

Just to throw some numbers at you now, political decisions effect 100% of the population, yet less than 50% of the population during midterm elections gets out there to choose who is in office to make these political decisions that effect ALL of us.

With that disclaimer out of the way and my advocacy expressed, I can now share some political poetry to help inspire you to get out there and vote!

Maya Angelou
Excerpt from On the Pulse of Morning

A Rock, A River, A Tree
Hosts to species long since departed,
Marked the mastodon,
The dinosaur, who left dried tokens
Of their sojourn here
On our planet floor,
Any broad alarm of their hastening doom
Is lost in the gloom of dust and ages.

But today, the Rock cries out to us, clearly, forcefully,
Come, you may stand upon my
Back and face your distant destiny,
But seek no haven in my shadow,
I will give you no hiding place down here.

You, created only a little lower than
The angels, have crouched too long in
The bruising darkness
Have lain too long
Facedown in ignorance,
Your mouths spilling words
Armed for slaughter.

The Rock cries out to us today,
You may stand upon me,
But do not hide your face.