Inspiration Days: Six Ideas for Writers
When we're drained of energy and fizzled of inspiration, sure, we writers might walk the dog around the block, take a hot shower, buy things we don’t need at Target, or crack open the pages of a beloved book. But a few years ago I made it a priority to take scheduled Inspiration Days to help fuel my creative well. It’s not quite the same as a research trip because an Inspiration Day can be anything – the purpose doesn’t have to be gathering content for a specific project. The goal is to try something new – maybe that's an experience or emotion – and see what happens. A lot of the times, Inspiration Days occur in my own neighborhood. Other times, while traveling for work or pleasure, I’ll plan something ahead of time. But whether these little creative field trips are one hour long or a full day of festivities, I find they inject inspiration into my writing in surprising ways.
Need a few ideas for your next Inspiration Day? Here are some to get you started...
1) Create something else. A few years ago, I took a two-week writing retreat in Florida, and about midway through I found myself drained of words, feeling uninspired, and ultimately depressed that I was wasting away the precious free moments to write. So I took the evenings off to sew. I didn't know what I was doing. Like, my mom only gave me a basic 101 on her sewing machine, but all the sudden I was obsessively downloading PDF patterns from Etsy, watching Project Runway reruns, shopping for fabrics by the yard, and making baby booties and ereader covers like a champ. It was awesome! I felt free to be imaginative in an area out of my element, where I wouldn’t judge and censor my every move. And when I returned to the page the following morning, I felt creatively recharged. Don't know what to make? Learn to knit hand warmers this fall, make handmade soap, try Tie-Dye or take a charcoal drawing class.
2) Get moving – not just physically, but emotionally. What do you need to bring to your story, your characters, right now? Passion? Fear? How can you tap into these feelings, inspiring fresh methods of channeling emotion through story? I’ve explored this on a few occasions by taking classes in silks, trampoline, and flying trapeze. I don't always know what I want to learn going into the activity, but after experiencing a wide range of feelings during the activity, I seem better able to tap into the core sensations and emotions of my characters (especially if it involves sore muscles.) This could be going for a jog, always good, or taking a long bike ride, but I'd challenge you to stretch beyond your comfort zone (no pun intended) to untap the creative juice buried deep in your being.
3) Fuel your body to fuel your work. And by this I don't mean stuff your face at your desk (been there!). I don’t especially enjoy cooking, but I’m definitely a foodie, and one of my favorite Inspiration Days was an organic cooking class where I learned how to make black bean burgers and a cauliflower side dish. It was just fun. I took the class alone, met a few people who I never kept in touch with, and wept when I chopped the onions. I never took the class again and have only made the dishes a handful of times since. But did I leave feeling inspired just because I tried something new to stimulate my mind? Yes. And with a full stomach! Bonus. For some of you, this might mean trying out a new café or coffee shop, or baking a cake at home. But cooking is a sensory experience on many levels – The citrus scent of fresh lime juice in the air, the bite of salted jalapeños on your tongue, and clang of a wooden spoon against a mixing bowl – it's all writing fuel that may help you translate sensory details to your work in a more creative, inspired way.
4) Uplift your writing with live music. Whether it’s your favorite band or a brand-new singer, music has a way of slithering into our psyche, uprooting emotion, memories, and ideas. I don’t do this bullet point nearly as often as I should but since moving to New York, my husband and I fallen in love with the jazz scene, catching shows at the Blue Note and Smoke, and listening to Gregory Porter (a new favorite of ours!) sing in Madison Square Park. I know absolutely nothing about jazz except for the fact that I like it. It makes me think and feel and then... impulsively create. If I could schedule more of these inspirational moments into my calendar, I would. I'm dying to see Ken Peplowski live! Have you heard his new recording Noir Blue? It's awesome.
5) Find solace in the outdoors. There’s a lot to be said for the inspiration lingering outdoors, just waiting for us to sit, in silence, to seize it. We don’t all have dramatic landscapes in our backyards (holiday to the Grand Canyon, anyone?), but we all have something. Here in New York, when I’m feeling down and out with my book and lackluster in writing skill, I walk to the water in Central Park or along the Hudson River, or just sit on a bench and people watch. Even twenty minutes outside in the quiet of my mind can help free me from an entrapment in my art.
6) Embrace your local arts & culture scene. A personal favorite activity of mine, which I’ve done a dozen times over, is viewing the dinosaur bones at the Museum of Natural History. I’m in awe every time. I can’t tell you how many notes I have on dinosaurs in my image books, and I’ve never written a book about dinosaurs. But maybe I will one day. I love dinosaurs! I remember one of my friends Gina had an Inspiration Day at the public library in the town of Sleepy Hollow, and her face was literally glowing when she shared how magical the day was for her and her writing. I've also had some great field trips to Columbia University, Cathedral Church of St. John the Divine, and the Brooklyn Heights Promenade. We have this place in New York called the Brooklyn Brainery that offers the most randomly fantastic classes for super cheap – like $10 – I've taken a few, such as computer programming 101 and backyard chicken ownership. Upcoming classes include modern day board games, Introduction to Marx, and New York City's Battle with Garbage. Other ideas: take a a ghost tour of your town, catch a theatrical production, go to the zoo, photograph architecture, learn a new language, visit your public library, peruse a street festival, or check out an auto or boat show.... Inspiration awaits!
What are your most memorable Inspiration Days? What’s still on your Inspiration Day bucket list? I want to try glass blowing!