I appreciate Anne Lamott’s advice and Patti’s candor in challenging us to remain inspired and in the writing frame of mind. It’s imperative to keep a notebook nearby. I’ve written before about my handy-dandy notepad that lights up when I pull out the pen. It’s great for those ideas that come at the edge of twilight sleep. I keep a journal with me for my current WIP with lots of lined pages for jotting down ideas as they come and space to stuff a timeline & photos of the characters. It’s messy – I don’t encumber the flow with neatness or organization, except that I may have tabs for setting, characters and plot. I’m the only one who sees the jumble of illegible words. Unfortunately, for me inspiration never comes when I’m sitting with my notebook in my lap drumming my fingers on the table.
You can’t look at inspiration straight on, as Ray Bradbury points out. “It isn’t easy. Nobody has ever done it consistently. Those who try hardest, scare it off into the woods. Those who turn their backs and saunter along, whistling softly between their teeth, hear it treading quietly behind them, lured by a carefully acquired disdain.” (Zen in the Art of Writing) It’s a bit like love. You can do your best to cultivate the possibility but you can’t make it happen.
I hear where Patti’s coming from. I hate to admit it, but pain is a great leveler. So is the realization of your own mortality. I bumped up against both about 13 years ago when I underwent treatment for breast cancer. There were no instructions. Like Patti, I had to look away from the woman I was at times, but through the process I learned to cut myself some slack. And I knew, overwhelmingly, that God cut me slack, too. Every day. So that not long after, there was a very grumpy man in front of me in the grocery check-out who left a bad impression on the checker. After he left, she made a comment, and without thinking, I said, “Maybe he’s in pain.” Did I have insight into his frame of mind or was he really just an old sourpuss? Who knows? But the next time I write about a sourpuss I can dust it with compassion.
I like to think of myself as observant, but I climbed the front steps yesterday without even noticing that the yard had been mowed and the hedges trimmed while I was at work. My husband shakes his head at me sometimes. I was probably wondering what was thawed for dinner as I crossed the threshold, or whether he’d thought to pick up cat litter. The pressures of everyday life can fit me with blinders and prevent me from being present in the moment. And writing in snatches and stolen moments makes it difficult to look outward and stay in the writing frame of mind. But if I ‘steal’ those moments at the same time every day, I train my creativity to click on at that time. If I park myself on a bench at lunch, I can sharpen my observation skills on the people who wander past.
What have you found that cultivates your creativity and helps you stay in the writing frame of mind? We’d love to hear!