By Molly J. Anderson-Childers | Updated May 5, 2018
I got the idea for this piece in the middle of a wild Colorado hailstorm on a day in July. We have a tin roof, and during a storm like that, all you can do is hunker down and wait it out. You can't hear yourself think, or anything else, for that matter. Conversation even a written conversation with myself in a notebook is impossible. In the end, you can only seek shelter and surrender to the storm. It is best to come to writing in the same way, I think, an inspiration can take you over with the same ferocity, drowning out everything else in a storm of words.
How can you allow this landscape to inspire your writing? First, make sure you are safe and warm sheltered. Your basic needs must be met first; you have to take care of yourself if you are going to write. It's a tough job, and only the strong and true of heart need apply. If you do not burn for this thing; this calling, this passion borne of putting pen to paper, and letting them dance, then you won't last a minute. Not even a day.
Find a safe place to ride out the storm words or hailstones can cause a lot of damage if you're not properly prepared for them. Warm it with your inspiration, your passion, your soul's sweet fire. Put pen to paper and try to get out of their way so that they can tango, fox-trot, and do the watusi all over the page. When it feels like you can't write fast enough to keep up with the words tumbling into your mind, then you are doing something right.
Don't complain that you're blocked, boring, that you have nothing to say. I won't believe it. I am an expert on all forms of creative avoidance and blockages, and I can tell you this 99% of the time, you're not blocked, you're just being lazy.
Get off your butt and write something. I hear you whining and kvetching out there, "I don't want to... I can't... I don't have time... I'll do it tomorrow." Ha! You don't have the time. You make the time, if you want this badly enough. If you burn you will write because you can't live without it, because you'd surely go mad if you couldn't write. Everyone gets just 24 precious hours every day, and no one is going to give you any more than that because you're a suffering artist. Quit whining and write. It is your job, your one and holy purpose on this earth.
You tell me you're blocked? I laugh, and then I challenge you to write anyway; to write when you don't feel like it; when you're sure that all of your ideas are stale. This is part of the discipline that writing requires. No, demands, of you. There are a hundred other things I could be doing right now, even as I type this, but I'm on deadline. My kitchen is filthy; I'm hot and sticky from a day at work in the sun; I'd rather be in Rio. And I still have a deadline to meet. You must learn to burn through your resistance and write.
When you run out of ideas, there's more room in your head for new ones! Emptied out, clean and hungry, seeking your Muses, you can achieve a receptive and fertile creative state without even realizing it. You can write about what's around you, or go searching far and wide for inspiration. A simple change of pace, or place, can inspire you. Try writing in a whole new place: your favorite bar or bookstore, in a library or a laundromat, in a gallery, a park, or your own backyard. Focus through distraction. Eavesdrop. Look around surreptitiously, and begin.
Try to get down as many concrete details about your surroundings as possible. The sights, sounds, and smells of a coffee shop in your journal can serve as the basis for a scene in your next novel, or provide a background for a poem. The subject of a painting, drawing, or other art project may emerge from your first "verbal sketches." Describe the silly students behind the counter, the old man in the back booth playing chess by himself, Miles Davis and melancholy on the radio.
I like to bring a little notebook or sketchpad something tiny enough to fit in a pocket or purse everywhere I go. You never know where inspiration may strike next it's like lightning, here and then gone and what was it again? Another tip: always, always, always bring a backup pen! For want of a decent pen, the idea was lost and The Muse ever favors the prepared.
You can use found objects gleaned from your travels to create a collage or sculpture, or other forms of visual art, such as a creative journal entry combining your own words and artwork with subway tokens, recipes, postcards, movie ticket stubs, and the fortunes from fortune cookies. Go wild! This will give your journal a unique flavor and a distinctive style, both personal and meaningful. For more ideas on using landscape or place as a Muse, see my Juicy Journals and Wild Words piece, On Assignment in Ouray, Colorado.
No matter where you are at home in bed, on a plane to Bangkok, or bellydancing in Cairo, you can allow the Muse of a place to enter your work, inspire you, and take your writing and art in new, unexpected directions.
Postcards, stamps, maps and other mementos from a trip can serve as inspiration for a story or poem. Try writing a short story or the first chapter of a novel with a place a house, lake, mountain, or even a city as one of the main characters. For excellent examples of an "active landscape" in contemporary literature, please see Blackbird House, or most any other work of fiction by Alice Hoffman, Cherry and The Liars' Club, by Mary Karr, or Sex and the City by Candace Bushnell. In very different ways, these authors portray their settings as more than a mere backdrop for events. They jump off the page and take on a life of their own.
Feeling blocked, stuck, or bored with it all? Get out of your rut and out of the house. Go for a walk and collect interesting rocks, words, sticks, flowers. Say hello to a new dog in the neighborhood. Wander among the trees until you have lost all sense, all language. Then listen to what the forest is whispering to you, and be amazed. Write it all down.
Don't wait for the Muse to come and find you. Sometimes you must go seeking for that which you hope to find. I invite you to color outside of the lines ON PURPOSE, do everything you ever dared to dream, and, don't just think outside the box, live outside the box! It's gorgeous out here come outside and play!
Next Muse: Nature as Muse, Healer, and Guide
©2008 Molly J. Anderson-Childers. All rights reserved.
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