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.

Updates, Childhood, and Stephen King

Already knowing that I wanted to be a writer at a young age, I wrote a letter to Stephen King when I was eleven years old, asking for writing advice. This was long before he’d written On Writing. In fact, now that I think of it, I wrote it almost 30 years ago. Since I didn’t know his street address, I addressed it to “Stephen King, Bangor, ME.”

Back then, I was a huge Stephen King fan. Okay, so I’d only read one of his books at that point: my real King years would stretch from middle school through high school. Still, The Eyes of the Dragon remains one of my favorites, and I’ve read it more than any other book.

I don’t remember how long it took to receive a reply, but I did receive one, and it made me and my mom laugh hard, since it was a form letter that apologized for being a form letter and assured me that my letter had been read. With the form letter was the much sought-after writing advice I’d asked for, based on an article King had written. It was called, “Everything You Need to Know About Writing Successfully – in Ten Minutes.” And while you can find links to it online (such as this one), they don’t include the edit marks that are in my copy.

Flash forward to yesterday, when I watched the first part of IT, the 2017 movie (not the 1990 miniseries). While much is changed from the book (including a smart decision to update the childhood portion to the 80s), its tone and essence, and the camaraderie among members of The Losers’ Club, is captured much better than in the miniseries. And some of the details that are changed are for the better — at least when you don’t have over a thousand pages to play with.

Seeing the movie led to two realizations: I really want to read the book again (which I initially finished over the course of a summer), and my first novel bears similarities to King’s work — which would make sense, since I first conceived it in that style and it deals with evil in a small town, which tends to be a King specialty. In fact, one of the reasons I wanted to see the movie was to find out what worked (and why), and how I could use that information to make my novel better, since I’ve been working on it, off-and-on, for almost for two decades.

Another tool to jog my memory has been home movies. Over the course of the past few Christmases, my dad had all our home movies put on Blu-rays. Over the past week, I’ve been sampling one Blu-ray in particular, since it covers the same time period in my life as my protagonists. Some of what I’m picking up are speech patterns, but also, the FEEL of those times. You can capture all the details in the world, but if you can’t capture what it feels like to be your characters living in that place at that time, you might as well be writing a research paper.

Watching these movies has been odd. I remember the events portrayed in them, but I can’t remember much beyond what the camera shows. And then I’m looking at myself from almost 30 years ago, and I’m closer in age now to that of my parents in the video. And yet, I feel I’m closer to capturing the essence of what I originally wanted this novel to say than when I started it. Maybe all I needed was to be old enough to forget my childhood, so that I could be reminded of it again.

A Look Ahead

Happy 2019, everyone! Sorry for the delay in posting this. The holidays tend to interfere mightily with my writing plans. And then I decided to clean my apartment.

On the book front, I started reading In Search of Lost Time last year (the original Moncrieff translation, without any additional editors, since it was cheap, it’s a classic translation, and if I like it, I can buy a more updated version, based on the corrected text, that’s annotated, provided the editor finishes editing all the volumes and doesn’t die before finishing the last book, like Proust and Moncrieff both did).

Professionally, I continue to work on my novel and also found some other writing projects to keep me busy, provided I actually sit down and work on them. It’s too easy to forego writing and start doing some other activity, only to find myself googling random-ass stuff on my phone, or reading someone else’s drama on reddit, instead of working. I also need to kick-start my voice acting career. I even purchases a shiny new domain name and website last year:

https://www.salvatorespeaks.com

Socially, I need to hang out with my friends more and keep in contact with them better through long-form writing (or phone calling) for the ones who live far away. I would also like to take more vacations, even if it’s only a day trip or a weekend getaway.

Still, I’m excited by what the coming months will bring. Here’s to a great new year!