If you take the cloverleaf onto Apostrophe Blvd. South from downtown Paragraph City, you’ll soon be in “over”. This is the over that bloggers use to talk about in other blogs, as in: Over in Joanna Young’s fine blog, Confident Writing (http://www.confidentwriting.com/2008/03/4×4-sources-of.html ) you can find her 4 x 4 challenge on sources of writing inspriation. I know you can find it there because I did, with a thank you to one of my regular reads, Community College English (http://cce.typepad.com/cce/2008/03/caught-any-shee.html)
Joanna’s challenge is to list four blocks of four sources of writing inspiration. I cringe at the word “inspiration” because it suggests a magnificence that doesn’t exist in my blundering way of finding things to write about. “Dust-bunny chasing” would be closer to the truth. At any rate, here are my four bundles, with a thank-you bow to Joanna for the idea.
- Walk to find what you are thinking about. Thoreau, in Walden and again in “Walking” speaks of how walking stimulates reflection. There’s a left-right, one step-next step, this idea-that idea, on this hand-on that hand process to walking, (especially walking unpaved places with roots and marsh and hummocks that require your attention) that pumps blood into our thinking — Thoreau’s and mine, that is.
- Go outside and find three things, tossed aside things, manufactured artifacts. Assume they are all related, and invent the connections. Or three things from the natural world, all tied to one common thread that is in my mind, that I must find.
- Find analogies in the outer world that explain me and the inner world. The rocks in the stream below my kitchen window are all uniformly brown and wet. But later this spring when I re-set the stepping stones that get me dry-shod to the other side, I will discover that some are rust-red beneath the steam scum, others pink granite, others black shale. We all look pretty much the same on the outside, but only on the outside.
- Build a rock wall or try to dam one of the streams or divert the spring run off. It’s so much like writing — fitting the words together so they stand up in a serpentine contour line, or holding firm and shaping the liquid force that would move them.
- Writing with only the conscious mind is like bowling in scuba gear. I reach into a rich idea and wonder about it a little and then take a nap. Connections are there when I wake up.
- Ken Macrorie speaks of oppositions, of always wondering what there is opposing the things I think. If the tone is pleasant, what would the unpleasant sound like. If it’s hot, what would the cold be like. If this is what I believe, what would doubt be like. And if I’m feeling the way I’m feeling, what would the opposite of that be?
- “What If” is the name of one of my favorite creative writing texts. If I am thinking about something and I can write forty “What if…” statements about it, maybe I’ve thought about it enough to have something to say.
- Make metaphors. Metaphors are the root of all good fiction, all good poetry, and probably all great thinking. Metaphors leap out of the ordinary world and hook into a new view. Emily Dickinson writes, “Hope is the thing with feathers…” and suddenly we understand hope new plumed.
- Old photographs make connections outside of the present skin I’m in, often what I need to write. Old photos of Civil War battlefields, of rugby teams from 1950, of my kids, of old barns, whatever.
- My own old words sometimes take me to writing material, especially if I can translate genres: a journal entry into a poem, a letter to my daughter into a scene description, an old poem into an essay.
- Start a list of things I don’t know, or can’t know, or won’t know, or have forgotten. To write about what isn’t there fascinates me. I think of Wallace Stevens’ “The Snowman”.
- Busy myself with my hands, washing dishes or shoveling snow or mowing grass. When the machine begins to run warm in one of its familiar routines, the mind can step back and do its unconscious work. A neighbor walking by waves and asks how it’s going and I plunge the shovel into the snow pile by the driveway’s edge and push against the small of my back and grin at her and say “Fine, fine. It’s a good day” and I will have things to write about.
- I start with words, or a curious word, or a phrase that sticks with me for no particular reason. Lately I’ve been wanting to use the word “recumbent” but I haven’t got the right other words to go with it yet. “Recumbent” came when I saw a mailbox the snow plow had bent back so it was looking straight up into a blazing blue sky, mouth agape, recumbent. I’m waiting for other like-minded words to arrive.
- I go looking for words, when I’m impatient. I will browse a dictionary, maybe, or a thesaurus. I love my Facts on File Word and Phrase Origins for this.
- Words can be nervous, skittish things, though. Sometime I just write anything, like putting a duck decoy out on an empty marsh pond. Eventually the decoy draws in a flock of mallards and I’ve more to say than I know how to.
- Looking at other writer’s words is fine, too. Depressing, often, if a competitive mood develops, but reading for phrases in the King James Bible or Emily Dickinson it’s hard to feel in the same league, so where’s the competition?