Tag Archive: Inspiration


Writing at Your Worst

This isn't me, but it COULD be most days. This photo is by makelessnoise and I found it on Flickr!

Like I mentioned in my bio, I was an English and biology double major in college.  There was one upper level English class that formed the basis for my writing critique style.  It was an Analytical Poetry class.  I don’t mind admitting that this class kicked my butt. The professor was this Insane Poet Lady who cried over poems that were virtually incomprehensible to me.  She also wrote, and has since published, a collection of her own poems, many of which I also thought were total gibberish.

One interesting thing about this class was that it was three hours long.  Six o’clock until nine o’clock one night a week.  By the third hour, brain exhaustion took over.  Gibberish started to have at least a little bit of meaning and some of the oddest stuff just flew out of my mouth.  The professor said that she loved teaching three hour classes for just that reason.

Recently, I remembered the madness of the three hour poetry class and it led me to question the time of day that I work on my book.  I mentioned in an earlier post that I liked to get up early and write in the morning before I go to work.  It’s my freshest time and I feel like I’m giving my best to my writing.  But then I thought, maybe a little exhaustion would change the way my writing sounds and feels.  Maybe, if I was punchy it would give my writing a little more punch.

So, I gave it a try.

Wow.  Just wow.  I was a little stuck in my manuscript and trying to put off working on it until I had a bit of energy.  I gave up on that idea.  I purposely sat down in front of my computer at the end of an extra long work day when I was sleep deprived and just let myself write.  The next morning, after correcting the spelling errors, abysmal grammar, and a couple of really funny logical errors, I realized that I liked what I had written.  It was more honest and raw.  There was less self-censorship.  It had a completely different feel.

So I offer this as a writing challenge.  Try writing when you’re at your worst–particularly if you’re at a bumpy place in your work in progress.  See if it doesn’t open up some subconscious well of creativity you didn’t even know you had.  And let me know how it works for you!

P.S.  I will always love Insane Poet Lady because she introduced me to Mark Strand.  I’m pretty picky about my poetry but this stuff is just strange enough to be interesting.

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Last month I organized all the books in my house. They are now arranged by genre and author’s last name (This is what happens when science meets literature–mad organization).  It was two-weekend job–six bookshelves full and I need another.  I am so glad I did it, though, because now I have all my writing books in one place.  I’ve named it the writing tool shelf.

With my current manuscript, I’ve really been using the writing tool shelf.  I thought I would share a few of my favorite writing tools.

  • The McGraw-Hill College Handbook.  I got this book when I was in college and it is the best writing tool I own.  It explains grammar, punctuation, and sentence construction.  It has tips for stringing sentences and paragraphs together.  It even has sections on writing essays, research papers, business letters, and fiction.  The McGraw-Hill College Handbook is great all-around writing tool.
  • Dictionary and Thesaurus.  I have three dictionaries and one thesaurus.   I use all of them.  I also use the one attached to my word processor and sometimes look words up on line.  Oh, and there are these fun websites (Wordsmith and Merrium Webster’s sight) that will send you a vocabulary word every day via e-mail.
  • 20,001 Names for Baby…or any of the baby name books.  This is another place where I use the internet, too.  Like Baby Hold, which lets you look up names by ethnicity and Parents Connect where you can look up names by meaning.  If you’re anything like me, you agonize over character names.  This really helped.
  • Writer’s Market.  It comes out every year but I don’t buy it ever year.  It’s not a cheap book.  But, it has market information on various size publishers, magazines, trade journals, newspapers, selling your screenplay, and even writing greeting cards!  I’ve used it in the literary agent hunt (along with agent query) and it has a query letter writing chapter.
  • The First Five Pages by Noah Lukeman.  I’ve been writing since I was a kid but I haven’t been trying to write professionally for more than five years.  The First Five Pages is one of the first writing theory books I bought.  It was extremely accessible to an amateur writer.  It talks about the mistakes that you can make in the first five pages of your manuscript that will cause the agent or editor to stop reading.  This book is a crash course in the writing mistakes that can weaken your story.
  • Anguished English by Richard Lederer.  Ok, this isn’t a writing tool but it’s hilarious.  If you’re a writer, or even if you’re not, you should own this book.  It’s a book full of delicious English blunders that people have made.  Some of the mistakes are by children and some are by adults.  Every time I read this book, I laugh so hard I cry.

Of course I have other writing tools on my shelf.  I love to buy those big, cheap, glossy books out of the Bargain section of the bookstore that are just called ROME or INSECTS.  When I’m stuck, I browse them for inspiration.  They rarely fail.  And I keep a stack of index cards on my writing tool shelf in case of sudden inspiration.  I’ve loved those darn things ever since I used them for research papers in high school.

On Monday, I’m going to start on my next book analysis.  Until then, tell me what’s on your writing tool shelf.  Do you have unique tool that gives you inspiration?  Was there a book that really opened your eyes to craft of writing?  Is there a book about the English language that really makes you laugh?

The great photograph is by geishaboy500 and I found it on Flickr.

What’s your muse?

Some people are writers.  Whether you decide to develop your skill into something that you can market, quietly submit fan fiction to fan fiction sites, or just jot poetry in a personal notebook, something draws you to write.  You don’t have to.  Plenty of people don’t.  And, really, wouldn’t your life be easier if you didn’t?  How much free time would you have if you didn’t feel the need to finish that manuscript or that short story or that poem?  Wouldn’t it be nice to just relax sometimes and not think, “But I could be writing!”?  We might actually be able to sit in a coffee shop without eavesdropping on conversations for examples of authentic voice.

Nah.

But even for the most hard-core amongst us, every writer is bound to lose steam.  The thought of working out that troublesome section in my work-in-progress is just too daunting for me sometimes.  And I think about taking up knitting, instead.  At those times I need a little bit of writing inspiration.  Here are a few of the things that really inspire me.

  • Books and movies.  Other people’s creativity is a treasure trove of ideas for me.  Sometimes, I’ll write a scene or two of fan fiction from a world I love, like Hogwarts or Labyrinth (Remember that cheesy movie from the 1986 with David Bowie and Jennifer Connelly?  LOVE it.).  It works like a charm to get my creative juices flowing.  Some of my first stories back in my elementary school days were because I wanted to write myself into my favorite books and movies.  Not-so-great books and movies work for me too.  Sometimes my disappointment in the way another author handles a subject matter can inspire an original short story or manuscript of my own.
  • My writing group.  For me, creativity is contagious and so is success.  I love it when one of the people in my group sells a story, especially if it’s a story I saw in critique.  It makes me want to submit more.  Also, misery truly does love company.  When I’m submitting to agents and trying to be patient, I love hearing from the other people who are subbing, too.
  • Critiques, good or bad.  I have a live writing group and in the past I’ve submitted some excerpts from my works-in-progress to a message board of writers on-line for critique.  Sometimes having someone circle a paragraph and write “Love this!” will buoy me for days.  Likewise, when my critique partner can pinpoint something that isn’t working, and I can feel how it will make the whole chapter better, it will give me the excitement I need to revisit that section (probably for the umpteenth time).
  • Brainstorming with someone.  I’m lucky.  I have a creative person who loves me.  When I hit a rough patch, I describe the scene and we brainstorm together.  Switching gears and working something out verbally can be the thing that gets me over the hump.  And having someone to serve as a sounding board, especially someone who can give creative feedback, is a real godsend.
  • Looking at things I’ve already finished.  I have two completed young adult manuscripts and a handful of short stories.  I can finish something.  I can create a character.  I can spend a year doing this.  I know.  I’ve already done it.  Sometimes when I’m in creative despair, I need to remind myself that it’s not a question of, “Can I do it?”, it’s a question of “Can I do it again?”.

So, what inspires you to write when the creative river is starting to run dry?  What keeps you going when you hit a rough patch in your work-in-progress?

Awesome image by Suat Eman at freedigitalphotos.net