As writers, how do we get inspired?
Poet David Biespiel advises that the entry to an idea starts with an irritation – something triggering our minds as writers and making us approach, even with caution. It could be a news story about a lost child, the opening of a flower to the sun, or the way the light looks in the afternoon. The fact that we keep returning to the same irritations means that while we become more successful, more accomplished, oft-published writers, within our dark hearts the artist-as-creature still resides.
I spent last weekend in my home town, Austin, Texas, at Poets & Writers Live. The event, hosted by Poets & Writers Magazine, carried the theme of “Inspiration.” I returned to my new city of Houston refreshed and reminded of how significant connecting with other writers is to my life as a writer. We are not solitary monsters, burrowed in our holes with our pincers clenched. We are vessels, waiting to be filled, waiting to overflow.
I was impressed by the variety of writers participating as speakers. I found several new names that I plan to follow down a rabbit hole (probably adding to my TBR pile, which is so high it threatens to smother me in my sleep, but hey, it’s not a bad way to go.) Among those names I include Elizabeth McCracken, the self-proclaimed “crabby” keynote speaker, whose words made me remember that not every writer is cut out of the same cloth. We are different, and that is magical. As McCracken proclaimed, “Cultivate your own universe.” This should be our theme for 2016 writers! As Chuck Wendig often says, “You do you.” I find this advice particularly vital for speculative writers. Many new spec lit writers I meet are daunted by the task of world-building. I say – build your own writing life alongside new worlds.
Other treats of discovery included Ben Percy, who sounds like a mix of Darth Vader and the guy who voices movie trailers, and read an essay about creating suspense that as my friend noted, did what it suggested (it managed to be suspenseful and also fulfilling). And oh yeah, he used a picture book as an example.
Naomi Shihab Nye, guardian of the daily poem, believes that as writers, we need to use what we have given our time. I’ll be posting more on this topic soon, as I am fascinated by the range of “techniques” and “practices” different writers employ.
Further writers I discovered include Saeed Jones of Buzzfeed, whose personal experience of finding the self in memoir gave me hope for the genre, and David Searcy, a CNF writer that I surprised myself by loving.
The event culminated in a reading by Texas Slam Poet, Ebony Stewart. I had the pleasure to share the stage with Stewart at Write About Now's recent ladies mic, where she hosted with grace and hilarity. The experience of seeing her read her work in front of a crowd of people who may have never heard spoken word performed live felt exhilarating. Electricity filled the room as a group of writers responded to her work with a standing ovation. It was a moment I will not forget. (Video of her reading at Write About Now below for your viewing pleasure.)
I was reminded that quotations are not just for Tumblr and cloud-background memes. The wellspring of quotes at this event, not just by the speakers, but also by their mentors and the writers that inspired them, dazzled me. Here are a few that stuck with me:
“I am really two poets: The writing poet, and the editing poet.”
“I am afraid I must insist upon desperation.”
“Each thing gives us something else.”
The more I visit writer’s conferences, the more ornaments of motivation I find within them. I think it’s an amalgamation of absorption within “the craft,” giving one’s self space to address writing as a career and a “thing I do,” but also the importance of relationship with the writing community. This idea of absorption brings me back to Biespiel’s thoughts on the approach to the creative process of writing. As a life practice, I’m trying to come closer to my imagination and inspiration. The closer you come to letting yourself live writing, the more clamorous the creative process will be. Listening to prosperous writers talk about their work reminded me that the process itself doesn’t get easier, but I believe that developing a writing identity can.
I develop customs for writing events: I take copious notes. I save whatever folder I’m given, and I keep any notes and mementos all in the same folder so I can return to them later. I make note of people that interest me. I try to be less of a wallflower, sometimes without success, bringing home new business cards and handing out a few of my own. My latest habit is live tweeting (you can find my live tweets in the previous blog post.) If all else fails, I have a beer at lunch to clear my mind. It works best if it’s a local tap.
Lastly, I try to approach the irritation with less caution. I tell myself that not every writer is the same. If my curiosity is peaked, I let myself plummet down the rabbit hole, with any luck dragging a few friends with me.
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Holly Lyn Walrath is a freelance editor and author of poetry, flash fiction, and short fiction. Find her on Twitter @HollyLynWalrath
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