Getting started: Advice from our readers
Published: September 20, 2004
|In a previous edition of The Writer newsletter, Elfrieda Abbe posed the question: How do you get into your creative groove? Several readers sent in their suggestions, which we have posted below. Have a method you'd like to share? Send it to firstname.lastname@example.org. We look forward to hearing from you.|
Word of the Day
"I linger over the definition and root-word information in Merriam-Webster's 'Word of the Day,' which is emailed to me. I don't always look at the word on the day it arrives (in my SPAM), but I eventually get to it. Even if I'm familiar with the word, I use it to write a funny sentence. I love my own jokes and I feel happy and worthy and writerly."
"Brainstorming -- turning to a blank page in a large spiral notebook (preferably while reclining in bed before arising in the morning) and quickly covering it with random thoughts. After a while, I hit on something that sparks a further flight of thought, and off I go!"
Crescent City, CA
"Tapping the imagination is a tricky business. If you stare straight at it and say, 'Give me an idea!' it generally turns around and goes to sulk in a nearby corner, refusing to do anything useful. I find I have to kind of sneak up on it. I almost always start my writing sessions with 'morning pages' (regardless of the time of day) since that lets me whine and complain and get that out of the way. If I start verbalizing my current writing problems (What does happen next? How in the world am I going to get that character to give the next clue without making it obvious? Why did the victim go there?), it's easier to free associate in free-write mode and I often get some answers."
Jotting it down
"I write in pieces--a little here, a little there. Whenever the mind releases a brilliant idea, I record it. Sometimes later, at the second reading, it turns into trash, but sometimes it doesn't, and I'm amazed at such beautiful words I've created. I arrange them , like a puzzle, until I capture the words and emotions I experienced. I keep a file of these and refer to them often when I'm stumped for a few choice words. And lo and behold, I usually find a little gem that will fit perfectly."
Oklahoma City, OK
"I usually have a very hard time getting into the writing groove--but I've found a few methods that will get me going. The most effective is to simply read--and read anything, just look around--an advertisement, a cereal box, a book, a magazine article, the sports section--and something within a line or a word or even the layout, more often than not, provides that spark the internal writing engine requires."
Journals and notebooks
"The best way for me to get in the mood to write is to sit down with my journal and my notebook. I started a journal when I decided to embark upon a writing career. It contains entries about everything that is important to me - my husband, my kids, my dreams, even my disappointments.
I carry my notebook with me everywhere, but it seems that I get the most use out of it after writing in my journal. I start thinking of story or article ideas and jot them down in my notebook for future use.
This all happens in the most unlikely of spots - my bathtub."
Cheryl C. Malandrinos
"Every writer has to cope with dry periods. The creative mind has to be in a receptive mood before a piece of writing can be initiated. My favorite method to break the stalemate is to talk to strangers or friends, introducing various topics and promoting discussions. Every experience I have had in life can be matched by memories by another. It is the different perspective that lends truth to a story and triggers the writing process. The more people you contact who are willing to rap about their experiences, the more fodder you will get for your writing. If your conversation partner absolutely disagrees with your personal opinions, you can write about the different sides of an argument. If they have had similar experiences to yours, you can write about serendipity or expand on the topic with refreshed ammunition. It always surprises me when I discover a stranger's take on a situation, priorities that differ widely and results that stretch the imagination. An empathetic attitude is helpful when drawing out personal experiences from a virtual stranger. No one likes to be in the wrong or made to feel that they made a bad decision in life. Sympathetic noises fuel the conversation and prompt deeper revelations than otherwise likely. I have found that most conversations of this sort have opened up new vistas in my thinking and have even spurred me to higher levels of enlightened thought."
Make the most of your commute
"Before my company went under, I used to find that the best creative juices flowed during my 40-minute commute to work. My mind and car virtually on autopilot and folk music on the radio (from a local college station), I'd begin to form stories from the snippets of songs I'd actively hear. It made the ride go quicker and upon arrival I'd hustle into my office in order to write down as many of the salient points as possible - before my "public" day began in earnest."
Make friends with your characters
"My characters are all created from my mind, and they are living persons while I am writing about them. This makes it very easy for me to start writing. At the end of my novel, my characters stay with me so when I am talking about my books, the characters give me excitement. They are not just ink on the page to me; my characters are my friends and my idols.
Writers of fiction should lose themselves in their characters and their characters should be someone that they love."
Arthur L. Burton
New York, NY
5 tips for tapping into the imagination
1. Dare to daydream and take the time to do so.
2. Imagine you are the bird flying overhead and what you might see from its view and feel from its flight.
3. Focus intensely on the mindset of the era or backdrop of your story's setting. Be the character in that time or place.
4. Shut off the phones and shut yourself in a place where distractions are at a minimum.
5. Read National Geographic or Discover magazine to get ideas to spark the imagination.
Boca Raton, FL
Take a shower
"I recently started writing a weekly society column for two local newspapers. My best attempt at getting the juices flowing always involves a warm shower. This "event" can last a short time (a shampoo and rinse) or a longer, "pruney" time with a shampoo, rinse, condition, shave, lufa, and facial scrub. Both allow me to be alone and relaxed. There must be some special aura of inspiration in the tile!"
Mary Anne McCarthy
Morgan Hill, CA
Take a hike, tend a garden
"The writing mood can be elusive, but once achieved, pervasive. I often establish the pace for my writing 'Mood' on lone country walks or long city runs in the quiet morning hours. While these often serve as the platform from which my imagination springs, nothing compares to the ideas that blossom while I toil pleasurably in my country garden. It is then that I slow down and put my powers of observation to work, examining every stem, petal and weed, letting my thoughts grow freely."
Renee L. Klaperman
New York, NY
Use your travel time
"Traveling always gets me in a creative mood. Whether I'm on the subway, a train, an airplane, in a car or even just walking, I most often find myself scrambling for paper to write ideas down when I'm on the go. I tend to slip into a very reflective and observant state when I'm moving from one place to the next--looking out of windows, watching people, scenes and events. And it is in these 'in between,' transitory moments that I do some of my best writing."
Andrea Juncos, poet/essayist
New York, NY
--Posted Sept. 20, 2004