Posts Tagged 'inspiration'

What To Write….

Whether you write fiction, nonfiction or poetry, there’s no doubt you have a unique story to tell with your very own perspective. For many writers, reliving and retelling childhood stories are common platforms for their work. We often return to those times because they were filled with pain, joy or unanswered questions.

Even though we might have a sense of what story we need to tell, but once in a while we get stumped. Many writers say their best story ideas come to them when not sitting at their desks ‘working,’ but rather when they’re out and about. It’s important to remain alert to those mundane moments in everyday life—odd discoveries and chance remarks made by others in social, work or casual settings. Compelling stories contain snippets of these incidents woven with well-known factoids. That’s one of the many good reasons to carry a notebook with you wherever you go.

My typical day begins with reading the newspaper, either on line or with my morning coffee. An article might spur my interest which would drive me to surf the web for more information. If I am in the middle of another project, I will toss the idea into my “Writing Idea,” folder which contains stories I hope to tell one day. Whether I get to them or not is not important, the important thing is to have that folder for those days when my well runs dry.

Outside of having the “Writing Idea Folder,” when stuck for ideas, here are some questions you can ask yourself:

1)What is going through your head?

2) Who are your villains? Who are your heroes?

3)What are you obsessed by?

4) What inspires you?

5) Where are you in your life now?

6) What stories are you compelled to read?

Whatever you choose to write, you will soon realize that the creative journey is similar to life’s journey—it is unpredictable, unstructured, mysterious and laden with miracles.

In her book, Negotiating With the Dead: A Writer on Writing (2002), Margaret Atwood says this, “Writing has to do with darkness, and a desire or perhaps a compulsion to enter it, and, with luck, to illuminate it, and to bring something back out into the light.”

In Writing (1993) Marguerite Duras says, “Finding yourself in a hole, at the bottom of a hole, in almost total solitude, and discovering that only writing can save you. To be without the slightest subject for a book, the slightest idea for a book, is to find yourself, once again, before a book. A vast emptiness. A possible book. Before nothing. Before something like living, naked writing, like something terrible, terrible to overcome.”

William Faulkner believed that there’s a more profound reason why writers write. “An artist,” he says, “is a creature driven by demons. He has a dream. It anguishes himself so much he must get rid of it.” Whatever this dream is writers often lose sleep until the project is completed and this is how they uncover the story they have to tell.

In many ways, writing could be thought of as a modern, guilt-free replacement for confession. This might be one reason so many people are drawn to writing memoirs and personal essays. Writing about real life experiences is like a snake shedding its skin and leaving a former self behind. It’s easier moving forward when the baggage from the past is dropped. Franz Kafka summarized this idea beautifully by saying, “I write in order to shut my eyes.” Fiction writers might argue that they write fiction so that they can tamper with the facts in their life and that they have more freedom during the writing process.

Joan Didion says this about her writing, “Had my credentials been in order I would never have become a writer. Had I been blessed with even limited access to my own mind there would have been no reason to write. I write entirely to find out what I’m thinking, what I’m looking at, what I see and what it means. What I want and what I fear.”

In essence, we write to know ourselves and to figure out the world around us. Even our darkest—or unknown—thoughts, memories and fears, can transform themselves to reveal value and meaning in our lives now. And with any luck, for others as well.

What Moves You?

This was a question frequently posed by my mentor, Anaïs Nin, and today I pose the question to you, my readers. During the past few weeks I have been in the midst of what could aptly be called a literary slump. Thankfully, my recent sojourn to Paris healed me. Many writers, both living and dead, have professed that you should write what you know—but I will take this thought one step further and suggest that you write what you are passionate about or what moves you. The energy of your passion will be enough to carry your creative energy across the page.

Beyond writing about what interests you, the question is: what do writers do when they simply cannot be ‘moved?’What do they do when their pen stalls on the page and words do not churn out as quickly as they would like?

The Poets & Writers website has a section called, “Writers Recommend,” which is a collection of interviews with writers whose work has previously appeared on their pages. In this section, writers discuss what inspires them and what they might do to stimulate their creative juices. I believe many of these suggestions apply to all creative persons. Many of the writers’ responses may seem obvious to my readers, but it is amusing, nevertheless, to see these ideas all lumped together. Below is a summary of the most interesting and helpful tips offered by these writers, some which have been used for centuries by artists and writers alike. My recent trip to Paris was a testament to their efficacy because I have returned to the U.S. with a heightened literary charge. In fact, during my week in Paris, I managed to fill up an entire leather journal, accompanied by jottings on my laptop of future article ideas.

Here’s a summary:

1)    Go to places that inspire you—whether it is a bookshop, local park or café

2)    Read the works of your favorite writers to stimulate or alter your own world

3)    Sit somewhere outside of your typical writing area

4)    Do something different to recharge your battery, like learning a new hobby or sport

5)    Drink coffee, sip alcohol or use other mood-altering vices… in moderation, of course

6)    Listen to music

In addition to this list, there are other things I personally do to stimulate my own creativity or to give me a literary boost. For example, I might visit my local bookstore or library, walk around and pick up a  book which interests me and skim through its pages. I might carefully study the Edward Hopper print on my writing studio wall, which depicts a woman reading her book in a moving train. Something about her demeanor and sense of calm stimulates my creativity. For some poetic inspiration, I might focus on one image or emotion for an extended period of time and this might percolate into a poem. Sometimes while traveling, (which I frequently do because all three of my children live on the east coast), I might write a poem on a hotel pad, in the same way that William Carlos Williams used to draft poetry on prescription pads between patients. Speaking of Williams, while in Paris, I visited one of the three or four English bookstores, The Red Wheelbarrow.

The Red Wheel Barrow

So much depends


a red wheel


glazed with rain


beside the white


Et voila! Here’s to inspiration. Let me hear from you as to what you might do to get your own creative juices churning and if you found any of my tips useful.

Striding For Inspiration

I recently read Joan Anderson’s biography, A Walk on the Beach, a gem of a book and also a wonderful gift item for that middle-aged woman who has everything, but seeks deeper meaning in her life through growth and exploration. The book’s sentiments are akin to those offered by Mitch Albom’s Tuesdays with Morrie.

Anderson decides to spend a year alone in Cape Cod where she befriends Joan Erikson, the late widow of the psychologist, Erik Erikson. Joan Erikson bestows her years of wisdom on Anderson and the book unravels alongside their extraordinary developing friendship. Anderson quickly learns the power in having a mentor. After living all those years with her therapist husband, it would seem logical that she’d have a good grip on how to cope with life’s ups and downs. While reading this book, I made sure my notebook was alongside. Each page had potent insights to spark my own thoughts and serve as kernels for future essays and stories. The last section of the book compiled these nuggets of inspiration into a reusable list.

I love reading books which offer insights to inspire my own writing. I also enjoy books which open my eyes to new activities, such as walking which cleans the cobwebs out of my mind and also unlocks writer’s block. By the time I reached the end of the book, I decided to make walking a part of my daily routine. Since moving to Santa Barbara nearly four years ago, I’ve noticed that many people favor walking as a hobby. For me, it’s a time to meet new people, but it’s also a time to nurture reflection and creativity. Santa Barbara offers a unique blend of calm and an unexplainable creative force. I often wondered if this is a result of its unique location, where the ocean meets the mountains.

Patricia Fry wrote an article called “Meditation Walking for Writers,” which I read with great interest. She suggested a walking meditation technique to help if you’re stuck in your writing. She says that there is no altered state of consciousness needed to embark on this type of meditation, and that it’s just a matter of quieting your mind and finding the stillness from within. She does admit that you have to want to do it and then you will see results.

The technique is simple. The first step is to establish a schedule, anywhere between forty-five and sixty minutes each day. Dressing comfortably and finding a quiet place to walk, is critical. Santa Barbara, thankfully, has a glutton of perfect walking locations. Fry suggests that while walking you focus solely only your senses—hear the sound of your shoes hitting the pavement, a sprinkler turning on, or the birds chirping. Then she suggests feeling the air against your skin and how the muscles in your legs tighten with each step. Pay attention to the aromas, whether it’s the blooming flowers, budding trees or grass being cut. In other words, put yourself in the moment.

Beth Baruch Joselow in her book, “Writing Without the Muse,” also suggests in her chapter “Go Outside,” to explore the outdoors and discover something unfamiliar—something growing in your garden, something living under a rock, something discarded in the alley. She suggests bringing that something back to your desk to examine all its facets. She recommends writing a description of it using all your senses. She takes the exercise one step further and suggests describing the item using someone else’s voice, someone you know.

Once you try these mind-clearing techniques, you can start allowing creative ideas to filter in. Fry claims that meditation walks provide an ideal arena for problem-solving. When she feels overwhelmed, she walks change her approach to life, whether it results in slowing down or figuring out what to do next. She suggests replacing negative thoughts with positive ones. If you think positively, then chances are it will soon become a reality. Meditation walking is a way to relax and increase your awareness while getting some of that fresh air and exercise we all need and who knows, the side effect might be a fabulous poem or story!

Traveling For Inspiration

p10002641My recent trip to Africa continues to be a major source of inspiration for me. I continue to generate poems about the experience and jot down notes and ideas in my journal as subjects for future stories.

Traveling can be a source of inspiration for everyone. William Randolph Hearst is a perfect example. Yesterday, I had the honor to visit The Hearst Castle in San Simenon, a mind-boggling property overlooking some of California’s most magnificent coastal views. The actual castle sits on a hilltop at the end of a winding road up from the Pacific. The castle’s design was inspired by Hearst’s travels as a little boy. When he was about ten his mother decided to take him on a one-and-a-half year trip to Europe, exploring its culture and magnificence. It is there where he developed his fascination and appreciation for castles and architecture. Little did his mother know how that trip would have affected him for the rest of his life.

These days people do not have a lot of disposable income and traveling is often the first expense to be cut from the budget. The fact is, you don’t need a lot of money to travel. It might just mean getting in the car and driving somewhere different, taking a book and a journal and seeing where the experience takes you. If you live in the city, you can even hop on the  bus or train and make believe you are somewhere else. Let your imagination run wild and take you places you’ve never been before.

We all need inspiration, particularly when times are thought, so give yourself a break and go somewhere, it does not have to be far and it does not have to be expensive!

What Books Nourish You?

Over the years, my attitude has changed. I used to not be a fan of rereading books, proclaiming that there are simply too many books to read.

But now as a seasoned writer and one who studies the works of my favorite authors, I’ve changed my view on this. I believe it’s important for writers to have books near them which provide nourishment and inspiration.

Anaïs Nin believed that the books which nourish us are not books which tell us how things are, but rather books which show us how to change things in our lives. Nourishing books give us a feeling of being pushed into life. They are books which make us smile and stand proud. They are books we don’t want to sell to the used books stores each time we relocate. They are books which travel with us from residence to residence or from town to town.

For me sometimes the most nourishing book is poetry and sometimes it’s fiction and other times it’s memoir. As a teenager, the most nourishing book for me was Salinger’s book, Catcher in The Rye. As a budding writer, I was fascinated by his honesty and candor and wondered how one could write in a way that was easy for everyone to understand. I also loved the writings of the prophet Khalil Gibran and the poetry of Rod McKuen. I admired their simplicity.

These days, the books which follow me from residence to residence are the journals of Anaïs Nin, the novels of Balzac, Virginia Woolf’s A Room of One’s One, Norman Mailer’s Executioner’s Song and Flaubert’s Madame Bovary. On those days when my attention span is shorter, I might gravitate to my favorite quotation books for the fuel for my creations, and the poetry of Billy Collins is always my favorite, no matter my mood. 

What books nourish you?


Writing Begets Writing

The writing life involves hard work, perseverance, courage, finding ‘le mot juste’ and coping with the risk of failure. Writers can decrease their risk of failure by writing more and providing a steady stream of submissions to editors and publishers.

Those who get published are a special breed. They understand the graceful art of submitting their work and how with every acceptance there might have been 50 or 100 rejections. They understand that if you don’t send out your work you will never be read. Many writers don’t seem to understand this. Those who do not  get published sit in their office writing and waiting for the knock on the door, but unfortunately, it rarely happens this way.

Now is the best time to silence your insecurities and forge ahead with your work. Believe in yourself and your writing and send out your work out.


What are you waiting for?

Quote of the Week

"A writer uses a journal to try out the new step in front of the mirror."

~Mary Gordon

About Me

I am a memoirist, essayist, poet and teacher whose passion is keeping a notebook. My notebook is my muse and my alter ego. It contains personal snippets of my life and observations from the world around me. Diarist Anaïs Nin has been a great source of inspiration for me. My hobbies include writing, writing and more writing, but when I have extra time, I enjoy reading, walking, hiking, yoga, working out, cooking and hanging out with my family and Maltese Poodle, Spunky. In order not to become ensconced by the glare of my computer screen, I also teach in the UCLA Extension Writers' Program and in various conferences and festivals around the country. My pleasure comes from sharing my joy of journaling with professional writers and anyone interested in writing.

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