I’ve been doing more writing than usual lately, which is a lot. But I read once that if you feel stuck, one of the best ways to get unstuck is to write — something other than what you’re focused on. (Well, that and tossing a rubber ball against the wall. That helps, too. Quite a bit, I’ve learned.)
So I’m writing this.
The whole idea of writing, writer’s block and keeping the flow going got me thinking about the things that inspire me. And they often have absolutely nothing to do with what I’m actually writing.
Of course, the best inspiration is a good idea. And the people I write for and work with have more good ideas than you can imagine. Brainstorming and exchanging ideas with them is a constant source of imagination and hope. So that’s certainly not a roadblock.
But as anyone who writes or creates anything knows, sometimes that isn’t enough. You need something else to nudge you from inertia into action and restart the flow when it stops. Very often, inspiration catches me completely by surprise, found buried in a magazine article or an overheard conversation in a coffee shop. But there are certain things that never fail to inspire me. Thank goodness.
First, there’s always music. The writing music I like best doesn’t have lyrics, because I can listen and write at the same time; lyrics are too distracting. My go-to artists are Mozart, Brian Eno, Explosions in the Sky and Sigur Rós (yes, there are lyrics, but they’re gibberish so they don’t distract me). Taking breaks to listen to music with lyrics is another great motivator. Stephen Sondheim is consistently inspiring, and lately Florence + the Machine seems to conjure magical powers of insight.
I have countless other sources of inspiration, one standby being Eddie Izzard. Watching even a clip of one of his comedy routines sets my mind off in a different direction — because his brain doesn’t seem to go in a straight line, but in a zig-zag pattern that still ends up somewhere brilliant. (From yappy dogs to the Romans, anyone?) Watching him encourages me to look at things differently, to make new connections. Plus, a good laugh is always good for you.
Right now I’m taking inspiration from myriad, diverse sources. Downton Abbey and a re-read of Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides for great storytelling. Visits to DC sites like the Library of Congress and the National Archives, because they remind me of the vastness of our country’s past challenges and triumphs. Florence + the Machine’s Ceremonials is on repeat alongside Sondheim’s Into the Woods (which wasn’t written, I don’t think, as a political parable but it sure could be taken as one). Even conversations on Twitter or looking at random feeds — to see what people are thinking and talking about — serves as inspiration.
Sometimes, inspiration is right over our shoulder, so close we might miss it if we’re not paying attention: in the laughter of someone we love or the eyes of a dog that wants nothing more than to be petted. Life can be much simpler than we make it sometimes.
Inspiration is all around us. And I’m more grateful for that than ever when I have something truly significant to work on.
Speaking of which, time to get back to it. But I’d love to hear what inspires you. That might just inspire me, too.
My go-to writing music is Bach, Beethoven, and Bollywood. Okay, Mozart, too, but he doesn’t alliterate as nicely. Like you, I find lyrics problematical while writing. I like to think I can perceive a difference between something I wrote to the accompaniment of one type of music or another, which means to me that the inspiration is working. Mostly, though, I write to the music of the street outside and my own wacky thought processes.
Any really good storytelling is likewise inspirational for me. And being a hypnotist too, I like to spend some time in trance, going to the place where all these inspirations live and breathe and transform together, and allowing access to the state where I can see, hear, and feel what they transform into.
Thanks for sharing, Elsie. Lovely article.
Thank you for your beautifully written comment, Bridget! I love Bach (and alliteration), too. Very interesting how you notice a difference in your writing based on the music you listened to. I sometimes choose music to help drive a certain type of energy in my writing. Love exchanging these kinds of ideas with fellow writers!