“You have treasures hidden within you … and bringing those treasures to light takes work and faith and focus and courage and hours of devotion, and the clock is ticking, and the world is spinning, and we simply do not have time anymore to think small.” – Elizabeth Gilbert, Big Magic
One of the first questions people often ask writers is “Where do you get your ideas?” They’re rarely satisfied with the answer, because truthfully, I don’t know.
Psychoanalyst Carl Jung believed in a collective unconscious, a source of archetypal characters that we as humanity carry with us. Writer Elizabeth Gilbert, in her book on creativity and inspiration, Big Magic, believes creativity exists on a level of enchantment, something mystical and magical. She says ideas exist independently and may visit you, and if you’re not ready or open to a particular idea, it will visit someone else.
Gilbert tells the story of a very specific plot line she developed for a manuscript but did not carry through. Soon after, she met author Ann Patchett, who later told Gilbert about a book she was writing that essentially had the same, very specific plot line as Gilbert’s original idea. Nobody had shared (or stolen) an idea. Coincidence? Gilbert believes the idea wanted to come into existence and had moved on to another author to make it happen.
Sound a little “woo-woo”? Well, creativity is mysterious. You can chalk it up to coincidence or shared experience. But I’ve seen happen frequently firsthand, either in ideas or elements. For example, a writer friend and I swapped manuscripts and discovered we had both created a character with exactly the same name. A lot of it naturally has to do with being a part of a culture that’s exposed to similar kinds of stories, news and events. But a lot of it’s downright spooky.
The mind wants to be ready and available to capture ideas. But most writers and artists go through dry spells. This winter I’ve felt stuck – lacking inspiration, meh. I opened my works in progress and don’t feel much like working. I think creativity can go through cycles, too, just like the seasons. I feel like winter has descended on my ability to create, too, slowing things down just a bit.
When that happens, how do you “unthaw”? How do you draw creativity out of the ether and onto the page?
1. Acknowledge that you’re feeling creatively blocked. It sets in motion the intention to be unblocked, and it tells the universe that you’re ready to work and you would like an idea, please.
2. Hang out with other creative types. Their mojo can rub off, and more likely than not, they know what it’s like to get stuck. Solidarity helps you feel less solitary.
3. Cross-pollinate. Find another creative outlet. See a concert, go to a wine-and-painting night, take a dance class, make a construction-paper alligator with your child. It all comes from the same place.
4. Recognize a response from the universe when you see it. Example: Without my bringing up the idea of feeling blocked, a new acquaintance mentioned that sometimes creativity suffers when the mind is in a state of confusion. Determining the source or learning to accept the state of confusion can help shake things loose. The idea that a distraction was blocking me was worth exploring, and helped move my mind around the obstruction.
5. Recognize potential sources of inspiration or seek them out. I’ve had a lot of success with writing prompts, which can come from a number of sources, including single words that evoke memory or feeling. Try flipping through a book of poetry and reading a single line – write about how it makes you or your character feel. Choose a word from a newspaper article. Ask a friend what’s been on his or her mind and see if you can relate it to what a character is feeling and thinking. At a recent dinner gathering of other creative types, I asked each of the guests for “an interesting word” with the intention of using some or all of them in a writing exercise. (It’s also a fun way to start discussions and learn what might be top of mind for your friends.) They offered up the words “riveting,” “empowerment,” “lyrical,” “Mississippi,” and the invented “bulbalicous,” referring to a proliferation of tulips in the spring. (Yes, you can make up words.) How do you use the words? Any number of ways. Can you use all five words in one paragraph? Can you write a poem that is both lyrical and bulbalicious? What does empowerment mean to you? Do you remember learning to spell the word Mississippi in school? What would your character feel riveted by? Which word evokes the strongest emotion in your character?
6. Get out of your element. Take a writing retreat. Put yourself in a change of scenery: It can do wonders for your creative mindset. We have two retreats coming up this year, Writing in the Wild at Borestone Mountain in Maine, and a Tuscany writing retreat, Tuscany: A Retreat for the Senses. Getting out of your element on your creative mindset: You don’t have to believe in magic to make it work (though it helps).
Remember, the mind wants to be creative. Why not see what it can do?
An earlier version of this blog post appeared first at http://millwriters.org/finding-inspiration-in-winter-by-nikki-kallio/