Sunday, February 17, 2008

Inspiration for Creative Writing

I once asked my classmates in an online workshop about their habits for "finding inspiration." I think I asked "what do you do to get in the writing mindset." The first response I got back was "You should strike that thought from your mind." According to my classmate, no one who wants to be a writer should wait for inspiration or "the right mindset" - you have to just sit down and write. The next day, our teacher chimed in her complete agreement. Writing, as she pointed out, is a daily habit.

Unfortunately, those weren't the answers I was looking for. Mostly I wanted to start conversation, but also I was looking to get an idea of the sort of writers my classmates were. Writers come in all shapes and sizes, and the reasons for why they write reveal a great deal about their personalities. Some write for catharsis, others for the sheer joy of words on the page, a few here and there for the sadistic pleasure of writing a horrible end to people they don't like (not that any readers here would do such a thing...right?)

But most writers don't exactly know why they write. I can give ideas as to why I write, but no one reason is "the" reason. But the tricks I use for inspiration, those are facts. For a long time, I only had simple tricks. Sometimes I'd take a break and watch a movie. Usually I had a good book sitting by my computer. Every once in a while, when nothing was flowing, I'd play a video game - I don't know why, but it helps.

But then I took a freewriting workshop. For those of you unfamiliar with freewriting, it's a way to channel your unconscious thoughts directly onto the page. To freewrite, you sit down and set a timer for maybe ten or fifteen minutes (you can go for longer or shorter, if you like). During those minutes, you write. You write fast. You write the first thing that comes to mind and the next thing that comes to mind and you edit nothing. Just let it flow. Outlandish, unusual, uncomfortable - whatever the thought is, get it on paper and move on to the next one.

From freewriting, I discovered a whole new meaning for the word "inspiration." Instead of waiting on an outside stimulus to "get my mind going," I learned that the greatest stimuli come from deep within, like the deep ocean waves you never see or feel until they come rumbling to shore.

I've taken a few freewriting seminars, but the course that introduced me was a week-long Amherst Method residency taught by Pat Schneider. Pat's Amherst Method is a complete package for learning to write from within - she incorporates freewriting with guidelines to maintain an open and accepting environment for her writers to share their work. If you can, I highly recommend taking an Amherst Method workshop with one of the many certified instructors nationwide.

If you can't make it to a workshop due to time and/or distance, Pat has two very helpful books on the Amherst Method. Writing Alone and With Others and The Writer As an Artist: A New Approach to Writing Alone & with Others are both great resources for getting in touch with your inner self through the Amherst Method. Also, I have heard very good recommendations for the works of Natalie Goldberg. Her most well-known book on this subject is Writing Down the Bones: Freeing the Writer Within. Written in 1986, this book explores Goldberg's own experiences with inspiration and how to capture it on the page - Pat Schneider recommended it to our class as a way to become immersed in the methods of freewriting.

If you have a chance, take a freewriting workshop or take a look at some of these books. And let me know what you think. What do you do for for inspiration? How do you get "in the mood" for writing? Or have you found a motivation that keeps you sitting at your writing desk every morning?



1-2-Writing Workshops Online
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