Concocting an Inspiration Buffet

spices-438527_1280

 

A topic came up for us last week. We were discussing where our inspiration comes from when we begin a new writing project. Dozens of suggestions clamored to the surface and different ones tugged on each of our sleeves.
Primarily for Andrea, it’s her intuition. She tunes in, and the story calls to her.
For Leslie, it’s more visual. It can be a memory tangent or a photograph as the catalyst. It can be picturing the characters in action or conversation. Any piece of art can get her started.
Other times it’s a combination of those two, with additional spices added.
We stay alert to opportunities around us which leads to asking questions that draw out the story. This is about making a conscious decision to fly manually. We come out of autopilot and listen to the world around/inside of us.
It can be as simple walking down Main Street, seeing an always deserted restaurant full of people and wondering what led to this moment. Questions beget other questions, and soon a plot develops. Will it be a mystery? A comedy, drama, or something supernatural? Only time will tell.
We do know that it’s important to be open to inspiration everywhere we go. It could be our next story.
Where do you get your inspiration?

Whys and What Ifs?

road-sign-808733_1280

 

Questions lead places. They don’t stop like words do at the end of a sentence. They’re an invitation to go somewhere potentially new and bountiful.

 

I use powerful questions in my coaching practice, and I use a different set when I write. I ask myself ‘What if?’ and ‘Why?’ plus the rest of the ‘W & H’ questions to get deeper into plot and character development and motivating goals.

 

Let’s say I want to write a short story featuring a ham sandwich. Before or after doing some preliminary brainstorming, whether listing, mind-mapping, or stacking categories/subsets, I would develop tangents that might come from the food and ask:

 

Why is the sandwich important?

How did it enter the story?

When was it made?

What is its composition?

Who will eat it?

Where are they located: the eater and the food?

 

I might write out a few sets of those like reps at a gym, just for fun. Then I prioritize which questions are most central to the story I feel forming in my brain. After I do that, I begin with, ‘What ifs?’

 

What if it’s poisoned?

What if it was stolen from someone who struggles for food every day?

What if the bread is moldy?

What if it has a smell that brings back an important memory?

What if it’s the last food available?

What if it falls on the floor and/or gets stepped on?

What if there’s a paper inside that contains the password for an important account?

 

I could go on quite a while like this, but when I finish for the time being, again I prioritize them. I see which ones have the most potential and are of the most interest to me.

 

Do you use questions in your writing? Have you found any helpful ways to think about them that give you more mileage? We’d love to hear questions, snippets, topics, anything you’d like to share as an example of your questioning strategy.

A question may be simple, but it’s a powerful tool for life and creativity.

 

The Evocative Kernel of Rice

rice_kernels

I ate some rice tonight. It was long-grained Basmati, flavorful enough to bring back images and memories of a small rural village in the Maharashtra district at sundown.

Chanting can be heard over the hills off to the far left as new constellations (and a few old familiar ones) rise and set where there’s a marble Shiva temple on a distant hill. Small fires cook the evening meal in dots along roads of dust and iron grating.

Prompts are to be found anywhere and everywhere. I found tonight’s in my mouth when I suspected I wasn’t even thinking about writing.

This tells me two things.

  1. I think about writing far more often than I realize.
  2. All is food for the beginning, middle, or end of a piece, no matter how short or how long.

What prompts your writing? Think of a piece you wrote, whether you especially love it – or not, and see whether you can trace it back to the beginning… conception.

We’d love to hear any sparks that started an adventure in your writing.

Meningitis Mind Sentences

MeningitisMindSentences102214

Throughout my early life I wrote my pain on paper, and it seemed to help. I wasn’t conscious that I was dealing with it that way until an event in my early twenties.

One morning I woke up to get ready for work, and fell into my closet. Next I drove my little blue Fiat to work as if I was underwater, falling to the asphalt, eventually arriving bloodied and confused in the office.

I agreed to go to the hospital at the urging of my neurologist, who was concerned about these symptoms along with the intensity of my headaches and the fact that my naturopath had seen some unusual activity behind my eyes.

They took spinal fluid to rule out the most dangerous potential cause of these anomalies. My neurologist thought it unlikely but better to be safe.

It turned out to be true. I had spinal meningitis, and the next people I saw wore outfits akin to space suits. I stayed a month, and none of the doctors I saw could answer my simple questions: Will I live through this? Will I once again be able to complete sentences and think as well as I once did?

It’s difficult to describe the level of completely useless fear I felt when one after another answered, “We don’t know yet.”

At first, I was not allowed to sit up or stand. I had to do everything lying down. I would eat by rolling over onto my side carefully and using a straw. Though I was in the perfect posture for it, the one thing I couldn’t do was sleep. People entered hourly. There were lights, sounds, and people crying in the night. And there was pain and fear.

All the while I wrote in my mind. Affected cognitively, I couldn’t do much, but I constantly repeated the mantra I had been given by my meditation teacher. Over and over again, I would not only say it, but see it in my mind’s eye. I clung to those words like the lifeline they were. They kept me from drowning in my own fear.

Later, I continued, interspersing thoughts of purpose. “What did I want to do with my life when I was well again?” It took a long time for me to complete thoughts of any complexity, but I was gradually certain I would like to be a naturopath, one of those kind people who spent so much time to help me figure out what was wrong after a slew of doctors told me it was everything from an ear infection to my imagination. I will be a naturopath, I thought, and I asked my nurse for help sending away for information long before the eras of laptops, wifi, and cell phones. Snail mail was IT, baby.

While I waited to hear, I started to sit up again. I responded to cards with a line or two of text and a scribbled picture of the sun, heart, or a flower.

I wrote one line of feelings over and over until I thought of another line to repeat. They soothed my imaginings of the future.

I found out that I needed to do something else to fund the years of study it would take to become a naturopath. I thought I’d like to teach.

All this came together through thoughts that were pinned down to paper so they wouldn’t fly off into the stratosphere before completion. Slowly, I learned to complete sentences again. I applied to schools and wrote their essays with persistence. I struggled to stand and balance my body, and in a month’s time live outside of a hospital. I was a lucky girl who lived.

I did not become a naturopath, but I did become a teacher. I worked at it lovingly for a decade and a half.

Though I will always live with remnants meningitis left in my body, I know I would not be the person I am grateful to be today were it not for that experience and the time spent with myself, talking, whispering, and writing through the pain.