On the flip side, as a writer myself, I welcome the opportunity to incorporate a place into my stories by offering readers the most accurate description of what that place entails. When I do my research, I take a lot of notes. I also take a lot of photographs to jog my memory when I begin to write and tell my stories. For my latest novel that is set on the Eastern Shore of Maryland—particularly in the towns of Oxford, St. Michaels, and Easton—I spent a lot of time exploring and writing impressions, anecdotes, and talking to people. Getting things right, and using places that actually exist as the storyline unfurls is important to me and offers readers that realistic feel. I take writing about places as seriously as I do developing my characters. In fact, I think of the places as characters in the story.
Additionally, I instruct a Special Topics course at my university in Travel Writing, and I implore students to document their travels as it makes their writing come alive. Taking the time to recount what you’ve learned, seen, and experienced allows you to bring everything to life. Travel journals are awesome, and I love them, but any piece of paper will do.
I may not be writing and working on my next novel and collection of short stories as much as I should be, but I sure have read some pretty good books lately. It’s been nice to read other people’s works as opposed to worrying about my own stories right now. Books are piling up on my nightstand, and I’m hoping to read a lot of them this summer as I sit by the pool. It’s one of the great perks of being a professor–summers are made for catching up on writing and reading.
Of late, I can recommend three books that I have thoroughly enjoyed.
The Dress Shop of Dreams by Menna van Praag
This quirky fantasy was a fun, light, and creative read. I loved the quirkiness of each of the characters, the bit of magic thrown in, and the way the story neatly ties together, because guess what? Sometimes we like a neat little package that makes us happy.
The Museum of Extraordinary Things by Alice Hoffman
I’m not going to lie about this one–I was on the fence for many chapters while reading this book. Hoffman’s prose is extremely detailed and descriptive, and the book is low on dialogue between the characters. However, that being said, the melding of history and fiction is always exciting, especially in this drama. I found myself constantly looking things up to see what was real and what wasn’t. The story is interesting, and is definitely creative. I enjoyed being taken back to Coney Island in 1911 to an unusual museum with a cast of characters that includes a conniving and manipulative professor, the professor’s daughter who doubles as a mermaid, and a Jewish boy who is conflicted about his father.
Me Before You by Jojo Moyes
Jojo Moyes has quickly become one of my favorite authors. Her ability to tell a meaningful story is masterful, and she sucks you into the plot right away. This bestselling book is being made into a movie that is slated for release this summer, so if you want to read the book before it hits theatres, I suggest you get to it right away. You’ll follow the romantic story of Louisa and Will…and you will need your tissues nearby as you read this tearjerker. But it’s all worth it. (I also highly recommend The Girl You Left Behind.)
Here’s the trailer for the movie that’s due this summer.
You want to write. Writing is in your blood. You bloggers know this is true. You novelists know this is true. Magazine writers, newspaper writers, nonfiction writers, script writers—it’s part of who you are; it makes up your very existence. You can’t imagine life without it.
And yet, some days it’s difficult to find inspiration.
Some weeks, it’s difficult to find inspiration.
Some years, well, you get the point.
The problem is, if it’s part of who you are, you can’t let inspiration fall by the wayside. You need constant inspiration. These little pieces of inspiration are vital to your success; they help you nurture your creative side, but that creative side yearns to be inspired.
So how do we find inspiration? When does the epiphany hit us and tell us what to do?
I wish I had a stock answer for you that would help make your life easier. I wish I could tell you that at exactly 9 p.m. your creative genius is going to wake up and tell you it has a brilliant idea for you and you will smile and shake its hand and be ready for a new adventure with your writing. But it doesn’t work that way. In fact, that’s exactly the word we are searching for: work. Inspiration takes work.
You become a seeker…someone who needs to seek out ideas and foster them and help them grow. You have a responsibility to nurture them and use your intelligence to make sense of it all.
And, fellow writers, while I may not have the answers—no one does—all I can do is share what’s been working for me lately. These few ideas have helped me get out of the weeds and blow up a project I was working on and start all over again with it.
Don’t do negative talk. The intrapersonal communication we have going on inside our head should be positive. We do not need to bash ourselves, speak negatively internally, or question our creativity. We are supposed to be our own biggest supporters, and in doing so, tell yourself you can do it. You can write something meaningful. You will come up with something good to write about…it will come soon. I recently showed my sports communication students a Ted Talk by Brett Ledbetter called Finding Your Inner Coach. While it is geared a bit toward athletics, there are good ideas from which we can all learn. One of his ideas involves your innermost thoughts. He asks the audience to consider this: what if you’re an athlete playing in a game and your innermost thoughts scrolled across a scoreboard for everyone to see? Would they be positive thoughts or negative thoughts? Consider this notion with your writing. If your innermost thoughts were to scroll across the top of your blog or the Paperblog site, would they be positive ones or negative ones?
Find inspiration in the little things.Sometimes it’s just a phrase or sentence someone says to me; other times it’s a quote I see or the way a child holds her mother’s hand. Sometimes innocent things make me stop and wonder and yearn for simpler things. If someone tells you a story, you may be inclined to talk about it or research it for your blog or book. When I mentioned that the character I am writing in my new novel suffers from depression brought on by a traumatic event in her life, a friend of mine said she was glad I was tackling depression. We can’t deny there are stories all around us if we just open our eyes.
Let a photograph take you away. Sometimes when I see exotic photos, pictures of beautiful scenery or cities, or homes and home improvements that people post on Instagram or Pinterest, I am immediately drawn to a particular subject. Let that photograph take you places, expand your imagination, and give you wings to fly.
Don’t allow yourself to feel stifled.One of the criticisms I have received regarding my blog is that it “is not focused enough”—that I don’t just write about one subject area such as writing or decorating or relationships. I have intended my blog to be more of a lifestyle blog, despite the fact that I write books. I am a teacher who teaches writing; I also have a lot of interests. If I had to teach writing during the day and then only write about writing at night, I could possibly go insane. I want to write about things I am interested in—books, movies, writing, fashion, television shows, relationships, children, etc. By expanding your creativity and subject matter base, you may feel more liberated.
Find inspiration in other writer’s work. I just finished The Dress Shop of Dreams by Menna van Praag. It was fun, creative, and a little magical. Presently, I am reading The Museum of Extraordinary Things by Alice Hoffman. Both of these books are well written and both authors have vivid imaginations. Reading books helps you consider your own storytelling and makes you want to write better. I am always energized after reading a book, dissecting the techniques used, and paying attention to style, diction, description and dialogue. As Jack Nicholson said in As Good As It Gets, “You make me want to be a better man.” As for me, other writers make me want to be a better writer.
Put yourself in the shoes of your readers. What would entertain them? Would a short blog post do for the day, or should it be longer? What type of novel are you ready to attack next, and what type of novel do you think your best friend would want to read? Asking yourself direct questions about your reader and their demographics may help pull you toward a subject matter.
Find the prettiest or most attractive journal you can and carry it with you always. There is nothing worse than finding inspiration and not knowing what to do with it. At the very least, you should write it down. Immediately. Before you forget—before that brilliant idea your creative genius helped you think up drifts back up into the sky looking for another creative genius to pass it off to. Cultivate your ideas. Foster them. They are yours, and you owe it to yourself to act upon them.
Keep up with current events, entertainment news, social media, and bestseller lists. Do your homework. What are the hottest topics? What’s trending? What seems to be most interesting to folks? Can you find an interesting story and then put your own spin on it? Can you make something that seems like old news become new again?
I hope I’ve helped a little bit. Maybe the biggest help of all is knowing we all go through it. We all have those moments where nothing is coming. And then—BOOM—the best idea comes to you and you’re off and running.