Below are several archived tips from the former “Inspiration” category. Though some tips were created and edited by the current guru, James Gapinski, most are the original creations of past Life Tips gurus.
An unquiet mind
When you feel your thoughts racing due to stress or excitement in your life, it can be difficult to sit still and get work done. Writers must find ways of focusing on their tasks, because creativity cannot flower in chaos. Experiment with various meditation and relaxation techniques to relax your mind. Simply sitting on a cushion and attempting to gain some control over your thoughts is a good exercise. When you can willingly empty your head of thoughts, you can choose which ones to allow in.
Guy de Maupassant
"Whether we are describing a king, an assassin, a thief, an honest man, a prostitute, a nun, a young girl, or a stallholder in a market, it is always ourselves that we are describing."
"But I Have Nothing To Write About!"
You have nothing to write about? Nonsense! Your life is an exciting mix of conflict, pain, joy, thrills, achievements, disappointments, humor, and terror. Any one anecdote from your experience is the seed for a story. Start a journal. Write down those peaks and lows that make life worth living. Soon you’ll see a thread to tug at and you’ll be on your way.
"When I face the desolate impossibility of writing 500 pages, a sick sense of failure falls on me, and I know I can never do it. Then gradually, I write one page and then another. One day’s works is all I can permit myself to contemplate."
"Close the door. Write with no one looking over your shoulder. Don’t try to figure out what other people want to hear from you; figure out what you have to say. It’s the one and only thing you have to offer."
9 to 5
If you’re like most people, you need a job during the day in order to live. How to make time for writing? If you’re serious about pursuing writing, you’ll need to make adjustments elsewhere in your life so that your best hours aren’t used up commuting and sleeping through staff meetings. Look for work that offers flexible hours, days off, and generous personal time. Try to finagle a day or two a week working from home, so you can set your own hours. Get up early. Make your weekends sacred for writing time. Get a cheaper apartment or a roommate to share the rent and decrease your work-week hours. Whatever you decide, write during the same time of day and for the same period of time each session. You will train your creativity to flow then, and in time you’ll start getting a lot done. You don’t need to carve out 40 extra hours a week. Flannery O’Connor wrote everyday from 9 a.m.-12p.m. and published plenty. You will too!
Everybody gets blocked at one time or another. Sometimes it lasts a few hours, sometimes weeks or months. And the factors that lead to it are limitless: stress, poor health, mental or physical exhaustion, difficulties in personal relationships, or JUST PLAIN RESTLESSNESS. (In which case, do you really need another trip to the refrigerator?)
When you find yourself blocked, try and figure out why. If you're just feeling rundown, take some time to get your mind and body back into working order. Pounding the keyboard when you're knackered is a losing battle. If it's something more, like a creative standstill, there are exercises you can do to get your juices flowing again. And there's no shame in taking breaks.
Writer's block is NOT, however, something we claim when we'd just rather be sleeping or playing whiffle-ball. Don't blame the muse because you have ants in your pants. Get a routine and try to stick to it, even if it hurts.
"Read, read, read. Read everything—trash, classics, good and bad, and see how they do it. Just like a carpenter who works as an apprentice and studies the most. Read! You’ll absorb it. Then write. If it is good, you’ll find out. If it’s not, throw it out the window."
Your unique story
Always remember when you are writing that the thing you are trying to create is valuable because it is coming from you. Your life story is unlike anyone else’s that has ever lived. Your point of view, your impressions are all unique, and so your words are priceless. Remember that in the face of rejection, exhaustion, writer’s block, and frustration.
"To imagine yourself inside another person...is what a story writer does in every piece of work; it is his first step, and his last too, I suppose."
Write it down!
Everybody has something unique to say, because they have unique experiences, thoughts, and feelings. There are a million stories floating around your memory banks right now, and probably more in your imagination. Don’t be afraid to write them down!!
Keeping a Writer´s Journal
A writer's journal is a good place to keep track of your goals in general and for a specific piece. Scribble ideas, possible plotlines, work out the structure of your novel. You can also treat your journal like a diary—write about what frustrates you, excites you, makes you laugh. Write about your characters as if they were real people—yet another way to fill them out. When you hear a kicky line of dialogue on the subway, write it down! You might use it in your next story.
"Writing is like hunting. There are brutally cold afternoons with nothing in sight, only the wind and your breaking heart. Then the moment when you bag something big. The entire process is beyond intoxicating."
"My aim is to put down on paper what I see and what I feel in the best and simplest way."
Giving yourself grief
You need to give yourself a talking-to every now and then. Discipline is, after all, how we find and stick to productive routines. But don’t give yourself such a hard time if you’re having trouble getting a flow going one day. And don’t guilt yourself for turning off your laptop one night and going out for drinks with the girls. You need breaks, time away from the novel to regroup. The guilt-tripping writer is an exhausted writer is an unhappy, unproductive writer.
(Ok, he’s not so much a writer, but he did have some wonderful ideas...)
"Imagination is more important than knowledge. Knowledge is limited. Imagination encircles the world."
Let your imagination go
When writing in your private journal, let your imagination guide you and don’t hold back. Some of our best ideas, some of our best lines come when we’re being honest with ourselves in private.
Inspiration for the budding writer is everywhere.
*Reread those books that first got you interested in writing as a youngster--for me it was JANE EYRE. I thought the story was great, and that Charlotte Bronte was extremely cool for her determination to write what was in her heart. This is where the writerly ambition begins.
*Attend readings and booksignings with writers you admire (and some you’ve never heard of!). Ask questions during the Q&A session--find out how the writer works and what makes him or her set pen to paper.
*Scan the headlines for events worthy of fiction. "Man found dead in home with 300 chickens," etc.
*Make lists of your peak experiences, low points, and moments of epiphane. You will return to these again and again.
"Keep away from people who try to belittle your ambitions. Small people always do that, but the really great make you feel that you, too, can become great."
A little help from the greats
Not only do established writers have great work to learn from, they also have words of wisdom that may inspire you in your writing journey. If you come across a gem that you’d like to share with the rest of us, feel free to email it to me.
Attend a workshop or seminar
If you think you might like to put some of your thoughts and experiences to paper, consider a workshop or seminar on writing, or sign up for a class at your local university. Many cities have Adult Education institutes which offer affordable instruction in a supportive atmosphere, so you can take multiple classes. Getting feedback from a group is great for helping you grow and gain confidence. You might even end up with new friends!
An infinity of possibilities
As a beginning writer, you have the world at your feet in the sense that you can go in any direction with the stories you want to tell. Essay? Haiku? Short story? Prose poem? Newspaper article? The sky is indeed the limit as long as you are willing to experiment, focus, and not give up.
Keeping a Reader´s Journal
Keep track of what you read each week. It will enhance your growth as a writer by forcing you to think critically about the genre/medium you're trying to master. If you're reading a particularly good short story collection, or a nature essay that speaks to you, take a few minutes and jot down why—see where it inspires you to go.
So much work...How will I ever...?
Michaelangelo said of his art: "I saw the angel in the marble and carved until I set him free."
Think of your writing this way. Don’t worry about how much work you have to do or how hard it’s going to be to complete that novel, screenplay, memoir. Just chip away in little chunks until you discover you’ve gotten somewhere--until you find the angel at the end.
You´re one of the lucky!
Pat yourself on the back for being a sensitive person who wants to do something with those stories, dreams, memories, and moments that make your life your own. If you get discouraged, just remember. Not everybody feels the need to write, and even fewer carry through on that need. You’re incredibly lucky!!
Keep a Little Black Book
Buy a small hardcover journal that can fit in your purse, back pocket, or car. This way, every time you see something that catches your attention that might fit into one of your stories, write it down. Sometimes something that is seen or overheard can help you create the perfect character for your next story!
If you are experiencing writer's block and are unable to think of the right word, situation, character, or story line, one of the easiest ways to get ideas is to browse through photography websites.
Some great websites that have several categories of photos include:
Picasa Web Albums: Explore
Freewriting daily in a journal or a blog helps keep the 'juices flowing' even if you are not currently working on a creative writing piece. This makes it a lot easier to come up with ideas when you do start a short story, poem, or novella.
Bonus: A journal or blog may also become a source of your own story ideas if you have writer's block.
"A ratio of failures is built into the process of writing. The wastebasket has evolved for a reason."
Use Your Bad Memories
Think of the most terrible moment of your life. Maybe it was the death of someone close to you, or a very bad breakup or divorce. Even though these moments are in the past, they can still invoke intense emotions. Use your feelings and emotions to create a character or play up a scene in your current writing project. Using your own emotions makes a major difference in the honesty of the story.
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