Writing Inspiration for the Uninspired

In The Autobiography of Mark Twain (edited by Charles Neider, but possibly in other arrangements of his autobiography), Twain writes about “filling the well” when he experiences writer’s block (he doesn’t call it writer’s block, which sounds like a place where authors live). One of the techniques that worked for him was playing billiards. Just like the most productive workers aren’t the ones who regularly put in overtime, but rather the ones who are able to balance work with play, so the most effective writers aren’t the ones who sit down every day and pound out something on the computer, but rather the ones who take time to “fill the well” when inspiration leaves them. And make the habit of sitting down every day and writing something, but never mind that.

Here are some of the techniques I’ve discovered work well for filling that well for when I’m not feeling well about my writing well. It’s not a profound list, but it is a true one.

Go for a walk

Star this one, circle it, highlight it, staple it to your forehead, commit it to memory. Going for a walk is one of the best things to do when the writing isn’t coming. Heck, just getting outdoors has miraculous healing powers. If you can’t go outside, doing exercise or movement of any kind tends to help.

Clean

A cluttered house often makes a cluttered mind. There’s something about the physical act of cleaning up your workspace/room/house that lends itself to uncluttering your mind, too. It also has to do with that movement thing I mention above.

Read

Inspiration for writing comes from what you read, so if you’re stuck, reading a book can help. In fact, you should be reading at least as much as you write. And while you can read something that directly influences your writing (such as reading the same genre of book), it’s more important to choose something that inspires you and is well-written. If you’re reading something that’s poorly written, you can learn a lot about what not to do, but you won’t draw much inspiration from the words.

Be sociable

Contact with people is essential to writing about people. Even if you’re writing about pigeons, you should hang out with people.

Listen to music

Probably not something with lyrics. I find classical music works well. What you want is a mood, or at least something to distract the part of your brain that hates you and doesn’t want you to be a writer.

Play

Like Twain playing billiards, sometimes you should put aside the writing for a bit and do something purely for fun. When you come back to it, you’ll find that your well has miraculously refilled itself. Or that you’re an expert billiard player.

How to Travel in Snow

‘Tis the season for snow. Since I’m from a place that regularly gets snow (and live in a place that usually does not), I thought I’d help out people who aren’t used to the white stuff (not THAT white stuff) and give you advice on how to walk/drive/bicycle in snow.

When walking:

1.) Wear appropriate footwear.

This would seem to be an easy one, but I’ve seen flip-flops in the middle of a snowstorm. Unless the nerve-endings in your feet have died, you should wear something warm with good traction, like boots. You’ll also want something that’s waterproof.

2.) Walk on the sidewalk, not the middle of the road.

Cars need the road. Cars have less room to stop when it’s slippery. Cars cannot stop on hills because they need to accelerate to a point where they can clear the hill. Cars cannot stop at the bottom of hills because they’ll slide. If you walk in the middle of the road, you’re either gonna piss off a driver, or get hit by a car. Sidewalk not clear, you say? Walk on the snow-covered grass next to it. Speaking of which:

2.) Snow has better traction than ice.

If the sidewalk is clear, great. But if you live in a place that doesn’t see much snowfall, your neighbors may think it never snows and so not have shovels at the ready, or salt. In my home state, homeowners can be fined if they don’t clear the sidewalks in front of their houses. But again, I’m from a place that regularly gets snow.

When driving:

1.) Slow the fuck down.

Remember how slippery it is when it rains and you have to drive under the speed limit? Snow is worse. If you’re going the speed limit on a snowy/icy road, you’re going too fast. On the other hand, don’t drive the same speed as a pedestrian. You still have to make it up those hills.

2.) Snow is better than ice…

Like with walking, you’ll get traction on snow. You won’t get traction on ice. And when it first starts snowing? Slippery as goose shit. Wait until enough of it sticks to the ground to make more than a thin coating of slip ‘n slide on the road, then get in your car.

3.) …except when it’s on the top of your car.

Last weekend, when snow hit hard here, I saw many drivers who cleared their windows of snow, but left it on the hood and (even worse) on the top of the car. Why is that bad? Let’s say you’re driving down the highway, or it gets a little warmer outside, or you have to break suddenly. Either than snow is going to slide onto your windshield, blocking your view, or it’s gonna fly into the windshield of the driver behind you. Again, this is stuff people are fined for in my home state. There’s a reason for that.

4.) Freezing rain? Why are you outside?!

Seriously. If the forecast calls for freezing rain, you’ll have no traction on the roads. None. Zero. Zilch. Stay home, pour yourself a nice cup of hot cocoa, and watch a movie.

5.) Below freezing? Watch out for black ice.

Especially on bridges, where the air is colder. On pavement, it’ll look like a wet spot. It’s not wet — it’s a death trap.

6.) If you start sliding, don’t accelerate or brake. Steer into the turn.

Just like they taught you in driver’s ed, hopefully. Since you have no traction on ice, accelerating or braking will just make your car spin around. You’ll want to avoid that.

When bicycling:

1.) Seriously, wtf are you doing? You’re gonna die.

And now you know how to travel in snow!

Baby Steps

On Twitter today, I wrote, “Feels a bit like a toddler learning how to walk on this thing,” referring to me.  That got me to thinking: how do toddlers learn how to walk?  First, they try to stand.  Often, they fall down.  Sometimes, after a failed attempt, they’ll cry and have to be comforted.  But then they try again.  They refuse to be defeated.  Maybe the next time, they’ll take a step before they fall down.  And then, two steps.  They know they can do it, because they see the adults around them doing it.  And yet, how much patience they must have.  How many times must they fall down.  And then I thought: what if they didn’t get up and try to walk again after falling down?

Then they would never learn.  They would never walk.

Learning how to walk is a microcosm for the successes and failures that come after.  You’ll often fail in life.  You’ll often fall down.  But as long as you keep putting one foot in front of the other, as long as someone comforts you as you lie on the floor, slowly, eventually, you will succeed.  The only way to fail, is to stop trying.