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I know, you're brilliant, you don't need any touchy feely advice on how to create an altar to your writing. You're doing just fine, thank you. If this is true, great! But I hope you'll read on anyway, because I may say something interesting (it has happened at least once that I know of) and I threw in a pretty font color to brighten things up.
It's important to have a space set aside in your home for writing. It can be a big cushion in a corner of your closet with a notebook and pen, if that's all you have room for, but it should be all yours, waiting for you whenever it's time to write.
If, instead, you go with the more traditional desk (and I'm not knocking the cushion because, really, it's portable, and you can take it to a park or a friend's house or a garden or something and have a change of scenery, which is always good) what does this space look like? Is it covered with books or bills or plants or receipts or clothes or dishes from lunch yesterday?
Have a little respect! Move that stuff somewhere else. Make sure you have a good lamp, put a picture or quote over your desk, something you won't mind staring at a lot (there'll be a lot of staring, trust me). Maybe put little quotes on your monitor to inspire you (but keep an eye on these. When they seem tired because you've looked at them so often, put up some new ones.) Keep the area current with things that inspire you, change things up, perhaps on a monthly basis. Here are some ideas:
How about some flowers?
A container of your favorite pens? Perfect excuse to go to Staples and buy things you don't really need but always make you feel better having: labels, hole punch, multi-colored paper clips, blue paper, the ever popular, fashionably updated milk crate for filing...I can hear those waterproof markers calling me now...
A small notebook for jottings (sometimes writing it down before it goes on the computer helps you think and write differently).
A couple of books you keep going back to for inspiration? There are many times when I get stuck and will grab one of three or four favorite books of poetry or novels and leaf through them looking for passages I've underlined that might jump start my writing again.
A couple of placemats in a friendly color or pattern covering the desk area. These double as sponges when you scream 'eureka!' and knock over your soda in joy because you finally found the most brilliant phrase ever to describe your roommate's eating habits.
Keep a dictionary and thesaurus nearby. Duh.
If you keep disks of old writing, (what am I saying--IF? You better hold onto those fragments and scraps of 'failed' writing. Are you crazy? That's a goldmine) keep those near as well, so if you need to go back and look for something you think you can use now, you don't waste time digging in the 'miscellaneous drawer' in the kitchen, a box in the basement, the trunk of your car, your ex-boyfriend's bathroom closet. Go on, you still have the key don't you?
Your version of worry beads. I don't know about you, but sometimes I need something for my hands to do while I'm thinking. For some reason, this smooths things out in my head. I keep shells or stones on my desk, because sometimes I find I get anxious when things are going too well, when I'm working on a piece that is zooming along and I need to slow down a bit and make sure I don't lose any of the ideas as they come pouring in. When it's all falling into place--the words, the images, the plot--and it's so exciting, I worry I might ruin it! It helps to pick up a stone and roll it in my hands and remember to take my time, listen, and stay out of my own way. This works even if things aren't going all that well. I get great ideas when washing dishes or driving the car, moving an object between my hands creates a soothing, repetitive motion that allows my mind to relax, consider, drift, while lightly focusing on the object. It's a sort of meditation and it really works.
One of my favorites - cut out pictures from magazines of people that best represent what your characters look like. Or a picture of their house, the town, their cat. If you're writing a poem on Paris or winter or winter in Paris, cut out a picture that evokes the mood you're going for. Whatever. Tape these up on your monitor. Imagine your characters talking to each other. Fighting. Kissing. Imagine them walking through the streets or staring out the window of the living room. What are they thinking about? What are you thinking about? Visual representations like these can give a huge boost to your poetry or prose.
How about burning some scented candles or incense?
Dress up or down. This is the perfect time to put on the pajamas with the goldfish on them your mother gave you for Christmas. You know, the one with the matching tank top and socks. Hey, go all out. Put a bow in your hair. Wear a festive necklace. If you're a guy - time for the team jersey, just boxers, a robe with a scarf at the neck, a tie tied around your forehead or the pajamas with the goldfish on them your mother gave you for Christmas. Be silly. Be weird. Why not? This is not the time for pride. It's time to do whatever you can to get things flowing.
Try some music to get yourself in the mood - for writing! Take a few minutes to gauge how you're feeling right now, what you might like to listen to (something quiet, sounds of rain or birds or the ocean, disco, rap, drumming, the original cast recording of Oklahoma!?) put the cd in and let it take you straight into your imagination.
Also, we know your tricks. Make sure you put in the laundry and tivo'ed the game before you sit down. Same thing with the dishes, walking the dog, and washing your hair! No excuses.
Now, grab some chocolate or some nachos, some tea or wine or RedBull and get to it! Remember, setting the right stage for your work, using all the senses, cues your brain that it's time for writing.
Newspapers are great places to find ideas for writing. Another one of my favorites is a newsletter that goes out via email every week called "News of the Weird." In it you'll find hilarious stories of the crazy things people do, as well as stupid criminals and their crimes. Pick one and write its story in full as if you were there as a witness or, better yet, one of the participants.
Challenge for this exercise - if you normally write poetry, try a short story. If you normally write stories, try writing a scene for a play. Try something new; expand your abilities.
Here's the link to the site:
There are no limits but the sky. --Cervantes
Every exit is an entry somewhere else. --Tom Stoppard
I learn by going where I have to go. --Theodore Roethke
Every noble work is, at first, impossible. --Thomas Carlyle
Creativity comes from accepting that you're not safe, from being absolutely aware and from letting go of control. It's a matter of seeing everything, even when you want to shut your eyes. --Madeleine L'Engle
Live all you can. It's a mistake not to. It doesn't so much matter what you do in particular, so long as you have your life. If you haven't had that, what have you had? --Henry James
Read! You'll absorb it. Then write. If it is good, you'll find out. If it's not, throw it out the window. --William Faulkner
The writer should never be ashamed of staring. There is nothing that does not require his attention. --Flannery O'Connor
What I adore is supreme professionalism. I am bored by writers who can write only when it is raining. --Noel Coward
I think a little menace is fine to have in a story. For one thing, it's good for the circulation. --Raymond Carver
(* means the book is a 'must have')
TheTriggering Town (Richard Hugo)
The "Best of" Series on American poetry (edited each year by differ. poet)
(I suggest the Best of 2000 and The Best of the Best American Poetry edited by Harold Bloom to start)
Hammer and Blaze
(edited by Ellen Bryant Voight and Heather McHugh)
Contemporary American Poetry
(edited by A. Poulin, Jr.)
The BreadLoaf Anthology
(edited by Stanley Plumly and Michael Collier)
The Norton Anthology of Poetry
Introduction to Poetry
(edit. J. Paul Hunter)
On Poetry and Craft
(Theodore Roethke) *
Making Your Own Days
How to Read a Poem and Fall in Love with Poetry
(Edward Hirsch) *
Poems, Poets and Poetry
(Helen Vendler) *
(John Frederick Nims) *
The Poet's Handbook
(Robert Wallace/Michelle Boisseau)
To Read a Poem
(Donald Hall) *
The Sounds of Poetry
A Poet's Guide to Poetry
Poetic Meter and Poetic Form
(Paul Fussell) *
The New Book of Forms
(Louis Turco) *
Poetry Handbook: A Dictionary of Terms
Pick something you absolutely can't stand. Spiders. Lima beans. Big band music. Poverty. Whatever it is, write at least a paragraph in which you explain to your readers why it should be completely wiped out. List your reasons in excruciating detail. Be as obsessive, passionate and intense as you can possibly be. Don't judge your reasons, don't worry about making sense, just put them down on paper. Get it all out.
Doesn't that feel good? Okay, now, reread what you've written. Your next task is to write another paragraph in which you find something beautiful and worthy in all that ugliness. Look beyond your bias and your disgust. Look beyond yourself and your level of comfort. What is it good for? Is there anything about it that is useful? If there weren't, this thing wouldn't be here. It does something; it has a purpose. If only to make us better appreciate its opposite. To create balance. Really open up and see what you can find.
This can be done one of two ways. In the first, make up a word and then create the definition for it. Do at least 7 to really get into the spirit of it. Decide what part of speech the word is and also use the word in a sentence.
The second version is to be done in a group. Each person grabs a dictionary and writes down one word that they're certain no one will be familiar with. Each person in the group then reads their word out loud and all write down a definition for it, part of speech, and sentence, skipping the word they personally chose.
At the end, try using all the words in a poem or a short short story (flash fiction). Maximum number of words for the story - 100 (that's about 3 good-sized paragraphs). If you can use the actual sentence (or as much of it as possible) you used the word in earlier, in the poem or story, even better!
Write a poem that is really a list of things you hope will never happen to you. Make them as simple or as 'out there' as you want. Start it with, "I hope I never..."
...become a coward.
...wake up and realize my whole life has been a dream.
...open my closet to discover all my clothes are the color red. Even my shoes.
...forget how to be alone.
Be serious, be silly, be specific. Give us the same intense details you would give when describing something you DO want to have happen in your life. We always have lots to say about that, don't we? Do the same here. You'll be surprised at what you end up with. A poem.