Tag Archives: inspiration

Basic Instinct

Budapest chain bridge lion and moon

My gut has never lied to me. I might ignore my instinct (often do). But I know I shouldn’t, and time and time again, it shows me it knows what it is talking about. I’m in Budapest this weekend, in a farce – which I should have known better than to get myself entangled – my instinct had me well warned. But that’s what you get for not listening to your gut. Nevermind, at least I get to see my Budapest people, the greatest friends that ever walked the earth.

Instinct. Writers tap into something akin to instinct when we write. We usually do so via a freewriting exercise. Freewriting is what you write when there’s no one looking. Freewriting is instinct in control, sending words all the way down to the tips of your fingers. Freewriting is where you’ll find the most brilliant story ideas, if you look hard enough.

To freewrite, just write. Write the first word that comes to mind and then follow it with another. Set an alarm if you can. Don’t worry about grammar, structure, character development – just write. And when you’re done, stand back and take a look. Is there anything in there you can use. I’ll say there is!

Here’s an example:

‘Right now I’m sitting at my computer and the coffee cup is on the edge of my desk. It looks a little like an iceberg, as it is white and chipped and cold because the coffee has been in it since the morning as I didn’t do the washing up last night and the sink is full of plates and saucers. All those plates look surreal sitting unwashed in the sink like that. All at different angles like a Picasso painting with ketchup instead of paint dribbled over the plates. I wonder if Picasso got his ideas from waking up one morning and seeing his jumble of washing up in the sink I wonder if all the museums in the world actually have pictures of Picasso’s washing up and not his mistresses and Guernica and does that mean the joke is on us?’

The above freewrite might seem silly but it’s also an example of how freewriting could, potentially, inspire a proper piece of writing. This daft thought about Picasso’s washing up could easily be worked into a comedy radio play where a hung-over Pablo Picasso and Henri Matisse wake up after a night out on the town and dare each other to paint a picture of the mess of washing up in the sink. Thus, the modern art movement is accidentally launched. Another possibility you could take from this freewrite is the concept that something generally considered ugly and in need of repair or attention (washing up) can lead to tremendous artistic inspiration – and this idea could form the kernel of a short story or a poem.

Here, chose one of the prompts below and let it lead you into a three minute freewrite.

I wish I had said….

It was no use pretending….

A long time ago…

For the first time ever….

It was the day the pumpkin appeared on the chair…

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Wild Things

Fun fungus

I’ve been on a bit of a foraging binge lately. I came across a recipe book for wild food – ie berries, mushrooms etc… and have spent the past while subjecting my housemates to experiments in nettle soup, nettle lasagne, dandelion bhajis, elderberry syrup and blackberry crumble, fool and ice cream…

I live in an eccentric house share in an old mansion which has four acres of wilderness attached (there are even deer in them thar woods) – so there are plenty of the aforementioned weeds. Most of my housemates are adventurous, creative types, so are willing to try new culinary experiences and thankfully these have not yet been death by poison…

I’ve been having fun. And while I was out foraging today, it struck me how scanning the hedgerows for fruit, was rather like trying to find a story idea in the tangle of my mind.

I’ll often start writing by putting anything down on the page – “hggahgoidihgogha” will do, just get something down, break that white, crack that ice. Enjoy the sensation of the pen flowing over your paper or the tap of your finger tips on the keyboard and don’t think too hard about what you’re writing. Let it flow. Try just writing the “The quick brown fox jumped over the lazy dogs…”  a few times. Then continue on with the story. Where does the fox go next? Why is the dog feeling lazy? Where are they? What does the air smell like? What sounds can you/they hear? Is it hot or cold? Wet or dry? How does the dog feel when the fox jumps over him? Does he plan revenge? Once you’ve done a paragraph or two, you’ll probably find that the creative juices are flowing and there be some berries to collect in what you’ve written.

Happy foraging!


The Good, The Bad, The Ugly

Me at breakfast, Ireland, September 2012. Am I good or bad?

 

Probably the most common question a writer gets asked is ‘Where do you get your story ideas from?’ Well, from everywhere. From newspapers, from life, from events that upset, move you or fill you with passion, or anger. You can get a lot of good material from bad situations.

As a writer you have a built in advantage over non-writers in that you can put bad events in life to good use. A broken heart can (with some distance from the event) give plot and substance to a short story – as they say, no tears in the writer, no tears in the story. Ditto a betrayal or some such extreme circumstance.

These difficult personal experiences, often awful, also lend opportunity to observe human behaviour in its rawest form – a crucial study for any writer. Take note re who behaves in an altruistic manner (and does that even exist) in the circumstance? Who looks for the easy option? What type of person sticks their head in the sand and hides behind others? Who makes a stand despite risks of personal loss? The answers are often surprising. The meekest are often the bravest, the erstwhile idealistic often less so when faced with a truth that is inconvenient to their own life and circumstance. Bad situations make for rich people study material.

Alternatively, another story prompter is to use the ‘what if’ question. The ‘what if’ question prompts you to consider alternative endings to a real situation. A good example of this question is Stephen Fry’s Making History, in which he explores a world where Hitler was killed in WWI but an even more dastardly figure comes to prominence, and wins. Apply the ‘what if’ scenario to your personal difficulty and see where it takes you storywise…


Wonderwall

My Wonderwall for ‘Sheila-na-Gig’

I recently blogged about feeling blocked. I had lost my productivity and inspiration and the realisation spun me into a six-week panic attack which was pretty horrible. Nonetheless, I got through it and a lot of pent up creativity burst through with me – coz, Reader, I’m creatin’.

It’s hard to say what pulled me through that scary time. There were a few ‘angels’ around me , but certainly one of the triggers was putting together  a ‘ Wonderwall’. My wonderwall is based on an exercise passed to me by a fellow artist who works in performance and uses the wall method to structure, hone and shape his thoughts when devising a new piece. The Wonderwall (my label, not his) is akin to a spidergram, but poster size, allowing you to lay out your thoughts visually, using text, images, colour, shape and form. The Wonderwall particularly appealed to me, coming as I do from an fine art background.

I began my own Wonderwall by pasting up names of characters, themes, titles and phrases and also sketching images that I felt were somehow intrinsic to a play I wanted to write. With these words and images before my eyes, rather than in my head, I began to see structure and connection where I had not seen any previously. I also noticed recurrent themes in my work that I had not deduced before and I realised I was most frequently writing about the role of women, belief systems, chance, and this knowledge  helped to clarify and solidify the main pull through themes in my new piece.

So, for those of you feeling a little blocked right now, I’d highly recommend this approach because…. after all….  you’re my wonderwaaallll… : )

PS: The house is being renovated at the moment, meaning there are builders in and out of my room every day – I can’t help musing re what they think on my ‘Wonderwall’ – I’m sure they’ve got me pegged as some sort of paranoid conspiracy theorist with a scary ‘thing’ for naked people with goats’ heads…. ah well…


Suprising First Lining

Name of a ‘yard’ in Norwich. The capital of East Anglia has the most surprising monikers for streets, including: ‘Tombland’, ‘Queen of Hungary Yard’, Rampant Horse Street’ and Unthank road. All would sit well in amazing first lines….

Your first line is probably the most important in your work. It should surprise and intrigue your reader and somehow give a taste of what is to come. Ideally, it should be unusual or uncanny and most importantly, it should encourage your reader to read on…

‘”Damn,” said the Duchess.” is a first line attributed to Agatha Christie. “Damn” was a pretty raw word in 1920 or so, rarely uttered in front of ladies, not to mind say by one, and then one of high social standing. So, an opening line such as this was written to shock, to intrigue, to grab the readers’ attention and it is a good idea to find one with a similar punch in the modern age.

Thereafter, follow your first line with a pacy set of three chapters. These are also the showpiece you’ll be sending off to agents and publishers, so make sure they’re written to hook.

Some writers write their last chapter first, so they can figure out their plot, and then leave writing those all-important first few pages until last. In fact, the very last piece of writing they might do is the first line. Therefore, don’t fret over your opening, get the rest of your work down and come back to it later if necessary.

And, take note that just as your first line should reach out and grab your reader – your final line should linger with your reader for sometime afterwards…

 

Can you guess which works gave us the following opening lines? Answers below

 

1) ‘It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife.’

 

2) ‘I’m writing this sitting in the kitchen sink.’

 

3) ‘It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.’

 

4)It was a bright cold day in April, and the clocks were striking thirteen.’

 

5) ‘If you really want to hear about it, the first thing you’ll probably want to know is where I was born, and what my lousy childhood was like, and how my parents were occupied and all before they had me, and all that David Copperfield kind of crap, but I don’t feel like going into it, if you want to know the truth.’

6) ‘Stately, plump Buck Mulligan came from the stairhead, bearing a bowl of lather on which a mirror and a razor lay crossed.’

 

7) ‘Mother died today.’

 

8 ) ‘It was the day my grandmother exploded.’

 

9) ‘The past is a foreign country; they do things differently there.’


10) ‘He – for there could be no doubt of his sex, though the fashion of the time did something to disguise it – was in the act of slicing at the head of a Moor which swung from the rafters.’

 __________________________________________________________

1)      Pride and Prejudice, Jane Austen.

2)      I Capture the Castle, Dodie Smith

3)      A Tale of Two Cities, Charles Dickens

4)      1984, George Orwell

5)      Catcher in the Rye, J.D. Salinger

6)      Ulysses, James Joyce

7)      The Stranger, Albert Camus

8 )      The Crow Road, Iain Banks

9)      The Go-Between, L.P. Hartley

10)   Orlando, Virginia Woolf

 


Hirst Impressions

Herself and Himself – me in conversation with Damien Hirst’s work, outside the Tate Modern, Southbank, London, April 2012. – Photo Amelia Nunes


Art begets art. A meeting between like-minded artists often results in a cross pollination of ideas which inspire, progress and crystallise art projects. Such an exchange can be an intended collaboration, or it can be an ego driven ‘anything-you-can-do-I-can-do-better’ brandishing. And it hardly matters which,  so long as art ultimately benefits.

Likewise, great inspiration can be found in complementary art forms. A poet can conjure new ideas from a dance; a musician can be moved to compose by a script. I a primarily a writer of prose fiction but as an Art College alumna – when I’m looking for inspiration, I go to an art gallery.

I went with a housemate on a field trip to London last week to see the Damien Hirst retrospective at the Tate Modern, the Picasso at the Tate Britain and the Freud at the National Portrait Gallery. All three were fruitful visits but, it was Hirst that had me stunned and flushed with ideas.

I’d seen Hirst’s ‘Shark’ before and was struck then by the concept that the creature did not know he was dead. The retrospective examines death in more detail. Death, an inevitable aspect of life, is not morbid in Hirst’s world, however. Rather it is presented as a beautiful  climax (Diamond Skull). Dead butterflies are arranged in stunning giant mosaics reminiscent of great stained glass windows. Even a grand wall-size black circular ‘sun’, composed of a million dead flies has all the elegance and plush luxury of a carpet fit for the feet of kings. Life/death – this complementary nature of opposites runs throughout the artist’s work. The mundane, even ugly are elevated to beautiful objets d’art. A classically sculpted marble angel reveals insides weird and devilish. A dead, fly infested cow’s head celebrates life cycles. Hirst’s work tells us that opposites need each other to exist. Opposites are each other. Rock it, Damien.


I’ve been haiku’d!

A haiku for a weeping willow in Norwich?

 

If you need focus, get haiku’d. The Japanese know how to appreciate the moment: tea ceremonies where the design and the feel of the cup is lauded, the colour of the drink discussed, the scent, the very feel of the beverage dissected and praised.

Not surprising, therefore, the land of the rising sun gave us the haiku. Haiku is a poetic form that, traditionally, aims to capture a moment in nature, like a snapshot with words.

Most typically achieved using seventeen syllables arranged in three unrhymed lines of five, seven and five syllables, the practice of writing haikus is particularly useful if you are engaged in a word-limited literary arena such as writing songs. In such instances, words should be chosen carefully so that they can convey the specific mood, meaning and impact you require and haikus can help you build up that muscle. Haikus encourage you to pick up every word and study it closely for its sound, meaning, feel and impact.

Here are some examples of the haiku:

O’er the wintry wood,

winds howl in an empty rage

with no leaves to blow.

Soseki (1275-1351)

This haiku by the ‘punk poet, John Cooper Clarke, comes via recommendation of Westown Girl :

Writing a poem

In seventeen syllables

Is very diffic.

(John Cooper Clarke, 1979)

Cool, innit?

Happy Haikuing


Through the Looking Glass

There are writers feel story and character ideas are fed to them from “somewhere else”, a parallel universe perhaps, where these characters and stories truly exist.

 

 

Image

My no. 1 flat in Budapest – photo Nannette Vinson

Clearly, that “somewhere else” is a very vague concept and means different things to different scribes. Nonetheless, writers who hold such beliefs say it is very important to allow your mind to be open to receiving these ideas – wherever they come from.

Personally, I’ve had moments when I felt plugged into a conduit, receiving stories, characters and ideas- though I hesitate to say if this was a spiritual event or just the  way the brain works in creative mode.

And it is a rare enough event – I can never conjure ‘the writing rapture’ but if I write often it’ll roll around every now and again. And when it does, it’s a  magical moment when stories and characters come swimming to me, all done-up, pre-packaged and ready to go.

All we can do is sit down to write every day- most days you’ll get coal but if you keep at it, the diamond muse will show up sooner or later.


It was the day the pumpkin appeared on the chair…

Tok Jo! (Hungarian for ‘Pumpkin Good’ or ‘Perfect’) a painting by me, 2003

Freewriting is what you write when there’s no one looking. Freewriting is the madman in your brain taking the controls and sending words all the way down to the tips of your fingers. Freewriting is where you’ll find the most brilliant story ideas, if you look hard enough.

To freewrite, just write. Write the first word that comes to mind and then follow it with another. Set an alarm if you can. Don’t worry about grammar, structure, character development – just write. And when you’re done, stand back and take a look. Is there anything in there you can use. I’ll say there is!

Here’s an example:

‘Right now I’m sitting at my computer and the coffee cup is on the edge of my desk. It looks a little like an iceberg, as it is white and chipped and cold because the coffee has been in it since the morning as I didn’t do the washing up last night and the sink is full of plates and saucers. All those plates look surreal sitting unwashed in the sink like that. All at different angles like a Picasso painting with ketchup instead of paint dribbled over the plates. I wonder if Picasso got his ideas from waking up one morning and seeing his jumble of washing up in the sink I wonder if all the museums in the world actually have pictures of Picasso’s washing up and not his mistresses and Guernica and does that mean the joke is on us?’

The above freewrite might seem silly but it’s also an example of how freewriting could, potentially, inspire a proper piece of writing. This daft thought about Picasso’s washing up could easily be worked into a comedy radio play where a hung-over Pablo Picasso and Henri Matisse wake up after a night out on the town and dare each other to paint a picture of the mess of washing up in the sink. Thus, the modern art movement is accidentally launched. Another possibility you could take from this freewrite is the concept that something generally considered ugly and in need of repair or attention (washing up) can lead to tremendous artistic inspiration – and this idea could form the kernel of a short story or a poem.

Here, chose one of the prompts below and let it lead you into a three minute freewrite.

I wish I had said….

It was no use pretending….

A long time ago…

For the first time ever….

It was the day the pumpkin appeared on the chair…


:)) LOL : )) hahahahahaha : ))))

did you hear the one about....

Jokes! Jokes are a great source of plot ideas. An established writer gave me this tip years ago and it has served me well.

Jokes, you see, are plots in miniature. Stories sealed up and ready to go. You’ve got your beginning, middle, end, your conflict, your characters – flaws and all. All you’ve got to do is flesh it out. Expland on it. Change gender and setting if possible. And no, it doesn’t have to be funny because many jokes (indeed, stories) need an element of tragedy to make comedy (and vice vearsa) and you can just crank up the aspect you want to emphasize.

Here’s a joke that gave me an idea for a short story recently shortlisted for a competition:

“It was Ryan’s funeral and the pallbearers were carrying the casket out from the church. When they bumped into a pillar, one of them heard a moan from inside the coffin. They opened the lid and found Ryan alive. He lived for another ten years before he properly died. Another funeral was held for him and, as the pallbearers were carrying out the coffin, Mrs Ryan shouted “Now, watch out for that pillar!”

OK, it’s the way ya tell ‘em… But the point is that they don’t have to be the funniest jokes – just so long as there is a story in there, a universal truth with which your readers will react and engage. Wordplay/puns won’t work so well, go for the story…

Here’s another one you can chew on for a story idea (it goes down well in the creative writing classes I give in an English prison…)

The defendant knew he didn’t have a prayer of beating the murder rap, so he bribed one of the jurors to find him guilty of manslaughter. The jury was out for days before they finally returned a verdict of manslaughter. Afterward the defendant asked, ‘How come it took you so long?’ the juror said, ‘All the others wanted to acquit’.