Just like any other muscle in your body, your brain needs exercise.
And whilst you’ll know by now that I’m not the biggest fan of exercises where you have a set amount of words to write every day, there are other writing tasks that I definitely approve of. And one of those tasks is about inspiration …
I always find the initial planning stage of a book the most exciting. The canvas is blank … and in the first stages, anything and everything can affect what goes onto that canvas. Inspired by my recent read ‘The Hunger Games’ (which I thought was amazing!) and by one of my favourite books as a child – Margaret Atwood’s ‘A Handmaid’s Tale’ – I’m playing with an idea of a story set in a post-apocalyptic community. The great thing about writing fantasy is that the boundaries are quite literally endless – the only limits are my imagination, and at this early planning stage, I like to think of my brain as a sponge.
I’m currently visiting a friend in New York, and yesterday spent sixteen hours trekking around Manhattan, opening my mind to all the possible stimuli available.
In a recent post that I wrote about Writer’s Block, I explained how reading other fiction can really be helpful when you’re feeling stuck writing your own. Personally, if I’m having trouble finding my voice in the first person, for example, then I’ll read other texts written in the first person. That way I’m ‘thinking right’. However, some of the readers of the blog misunderstood this advice. One particular comment asked if I simply thought ONLY fiction could inspire fiction … and wasn’t there just as valid a place for poetry as an inspiration?
Hopefully this blog post will allow me to properly answer that question. When I’m at the actual writing stage of a novel, I need to surround myself in other fiction, in order for my internal narrative voice to take the appropriate tone. To be honest, I rarely read at all when I’m in a ‘writing phase’, because I become so consumed in the text I’m writing, however, if I get Writer’s Block, then its fiction that I will turn to. If I were to turn to poetry, for example, then I’d end up thinking ‘poetically’, and that would end up being what I wanted to write.
However, that’s not me saying poetry can’t be inspirational … particularly in the planning stages of a story. Personally, I find everything and anything can be inspirational when you are gathering the bare bones of a story together. For example, Suzanne Collins, author of the aforementioned ‘Hunger Games’ claims she came up with the idea of children fighting to the death in a twisted futuristic reality TV show-setting by channel hopping between footage of the Iraq War and a reality TV show (I’d assume Big Brother?). Inspiration can come from anywhere, so literally with that in mind I decided to indulge in an ‘inspiration day’ – opening my eyes and ears to everything around me in one of the busiest cities in the world, and not filtering anything thing that came in too carefully.
Personally I find ‘inspiration days’ work best if you’re alone. You’ve got time to think and develop ideas on the go, and the only conversation going on is your internal one, as you ferret through ideas, piecing possible scenarios together. I like to move while I’m thinking, so beating the streets of New York seemed the perfect place for such an exercise. And as I was planning on visiting museums, I was likely to encounter a number of stimuli unusual to my every day. I visited MOMA and the Met, as well as the Museum of Sex, Bodyworks, Madame Tussauds and the Empire State Building (yes my feet hurt, and I had a free pass, so don’t worry I wasn’t forking out heaps of cash in any of these places!)
I won’t go into detail about the things I heard and saw, but by the end of the day at least a vague outline of a story had begin to form in my head. And it made me feel like a writer. Creativity spun through my head like fresh blood pumping through my veins and it was like personal adrenaline. If you’re a writer, and you’re ever doubting yourself or feel like you’ve hit a metaphorical brick wall, then I would definitely recommend giving yourself an Inspirational Day. Think out of the box. Think outside of your writing comfort zone, and let the world come to you like a series of unmatched puzzle pieces, and just see what starts to take shape in your imagination. You never know, you might have the makings of the next best-seller.
If there was anything that yesterday taught me though, it was the value of other manifestations of the arts to writing. Ok, so when I have writer’s block midway through a novel, sitting at MOMA and staring at a painting for two hours might not do me any good, BUT when I’m tracing the path of an as yet untold stories through the waves of possibility, sitting in an art gallery and surrounding myself with a very different selection of ideas might be just what I need!