On Writing

The Writing’s on the Wall

Or, as the case may be, in the song, in a perfectly brewed cup of chamomile tea, in your dreams . . . Literally, anywhere.

A while back, the topic of discussion for Paper Cuts, our monthly writers’ group, was inspiration. Our conversation got me thinking about ways to maximize or play to your different sources of inspiration. I’ve put together a short list below, but since, as I’ve noted above, inspiration can come from almost anywhere or anything, feel free to note your specific sources in the comments and I’ll suggest some ways to make that work for you and your writing. Note that all of these are also good tactics for battling the beast known as “writer’s block.” However, keep in mind that your triggers shouldn’t be a distraction from your writing; if you find that you’re spending too much time setting the mood and not enough actually getting down to business, then your source of “inspiration” is really just a procrastination strategy and you should let it go.

  • Music. If, like me, you’re inspired by music, then why not listen to music while writing? Put on a record, create playlists to accompany your work, or just allow some ambient music to play in the background. Going to a concert, orchestra, symphony, or other musical event is another way to tap into your source.
  • Atmosphere. If you find that there’s a certain type of atmosphere that’s conducive to your writing, then create that environment for yourself or seek out that ideal writing space (library, coffee shop, etc.). If you need a cup of coffee or tea in your favorite mug, a glass of bourbon, candles, certain smells, a particular writing implement, absolute quiet, a blanket, whatever it may be to get you ready to write, then make it happen.
  • Dreams. If you’ve ever woke up from a dream thinking, “That would make a great/weird/cool story,” or if you often find yourself getting ideas from dreams you’ve had, then try keeping a dream journal. As soon as you wake up, jot down all of the details you can remember from any dreams you’ve had so that you can use those notes to generate future content.
  • Nature. I often find that going for a walk in my favorite nature preserve/park stirs up new ideas and images for me. If you’re also inspired by nature, then do your writing outdoors or choose a spot facing a window with a view. If, like me, you’ve got a particular place with which you feel a connection, then go spend some time there and see what comes up for you.
  • Images. Put up pictures or artwork in the space where you write so that those visual cues are prominently displayed where you can see them as you work. Alternatively, go to a museum or art gallery or watch a film that you find inspiring.
  • The Zone. If you’re inspired when in “the zone,” then try meditating on your project before getting to work to help you get into that highly creative space and tap into your subconscious. You can also do some automatic writing to see what ideas flow up from beneath the surface.

Again, these are just a few strategies that come to mind for me. I welcome your thoughts to build upon this list.

On Writing, Ranée

Atmosphere

I love to write when it’s dark out; the quiet, the solitude have always been inspiring. Some of my best writing has come in those moments very late at night or early in the morning when everyone else is asleep, the house is quiet, and it’s just me and my thoughts, some candlelight and music. I also find dreary, rainy or stormy days to be perfect for writing. Today happened to be one of those days. Just me and the dog, so the house is relatively quiet. I sat down at my desk with my notebook and a pen, lit some candles, put on my Stormbringer playlist, and began filling in some blanks in my work in progress. I tend not to write linearly, instead just scribbling down whatever scenes come into my head during any given session, but it gets me in trouble because I end up with lots of gaps. In the past, those gaps have felt more like chasms and kept me from finishing stories. Not this time.

I can’t tell you just how much I needed today. I haven’t had many days like this one since the pandemic began. By that, I mean days where the house is quiet and I’m the only one here aside from the dog—perfect writing days. And, honestly, I’m not likely to get many of them in the future either, so my goal is to make the most of those that I do get to have, but also, to create that atmosphere whenever I don’t have perfect writing days, my calm inside the storm so to speak.

How will I do that? Well, low light, candles, and music go a long way toward creating that environment of inspiration for me. And I always have music, even when I haven’t got the others. I’ve previously written about just how influential music has been in my life, how it never fails to inspire me (see Cosmic Dancer). It transports me to another world, the one of my imagination, where I see and hear only the movie reel of my characters’ story playing out in my head to an ever-present soundtrack. So I don’t need the dark or the silence or a rainy day as long as I’ve got music.


For those who are interested, my stormy/rainy-day playlist includes the following songs:

  • “Lightning Crashes” by Live
  • “Riders On the Storm” by The Doors
  • “Only Happy When It Rains” by Garbage
  • “Cloud Riders” by Tori Amos
  • “Stormy Blues” and “Gloomy Sunday” by Billie Holiday
  • “Mood Indigo” by Nina Simone
  • “Prayers for Rain” by The Cure
  • “Rain” by The Cult
  • “Wind of Change” by Scorpions
  • “Fool In the Rain” and “The Rain Song” by Led Zeppelin
  • “Purple Rain” by Prince
  • “Stormy Weather” by Etta James
  • “Calm Inside the Storm” by Cyndi Lauper
  • “Fire and Rain” by James Taylor
  • “Africa” by Toto
  • “Atmosphere” and “Disorder” by Joy Division
  • “Elegia” by New Order
  • “Building a Mystery” by Sarah McLachlan
  • “Five String Serenade” by Mazzy Star
  • “All Along the Watchtower” and “The Wind Cries Mary” by Jimi Hendrix
  • “Cloudbusting” by Kate Bush
  • “How Soon Is Now?” by The Smiths
  • “Shelter From the Storm” by Bob Dylan
  • “Shadows and Tall Trees” by U2
  • “I of the Storm” by Of Monsters and Men