Offbeat Inspiration: How to “Write” Without Actually Writing

Posted on May 18, 2013 by Caitlin C

If You Stare Into This Sunset On Your Screen Long Enough, An Idea Might Strike YouThe stereotypical image of a creative writer usually involves a single person staring off into the sunset, formulating sparkling gems of brilliance in their unique, brilliant mind. In reality, inspiration often strikes when you’re out in the world, usually far away from your laptop or notebook.

Planes & Trains, No Automobiles Required

While it may not be the height of decorum, eavesdropping is a great way to get your inspiration flowing. Instead of driving, try hitching a ride on a public bus or train. Long distance trips can also yield juicy lines of dialogue, or even subject ideas for your next nonfiction article. Wear a pair of headphones to blend in as an innocent observer and jot down your findings in a small notebook or note taking app on your smartphone. It may feel creepy at first, but the dialogue diamonds you’ll dig up will be worth the discomfort. As Pulitzer Prize winning author Thornton Wilder once stated, “There’s nothing like eavesdropping to show you that the world outside your head is different from the world inside your head.”

Appreciate the Arts

Many creative writing techniques focus on exercises you can do while actively working on a creative piece, but when you meet a stumbling block, sometimes you need inspiration from beyond your own imagination. Reading a great short story or novel can help you aspire you towards greatness, but as a recent controversial editorial on Salon.com argues, focusing solely on literary writing can sometimes lead to boredom and further writer’s block.

So what’s a struggling creative writer to do? Head to a museum, concert, play, or dance performance. Giving your brain a break from the linear structures of writing while still giving yourself creative inputs can bring on some interesting and unexpected insights. Enjoy the rich world of color, sound, light and form beyond the 26 letters we writers are limited to, and see where your imagination takes you.

Move More

Writing is a sedentary act and the simple act of getting up and getting out of the house can help urge along a stubborn creative process. Many famous writers have discussed the importance of their physical rituals with inspiration, including prolific novelist Haruki Murakami who directly links the calm state of mind running induces with his ability to generate ideas and focus for creative writing.

Remember It!

When a great idea comes in the midst of a bus ride, saxophone solo, or yoga class, it can be tricky to remember it when you next sit down to write. Try using acronyms to retain a stellar sentence, or set the words to a common tune to keep the idea fresh in your mind. If the idea is worth writing, it will usually stick around for as long as it takes you to get it out. Just ask Stephen King, who waited nearly 40 years to pen one of his latest best-selling tomes.

Caitlin C is a freelance writer available on WriterAccess, a marketplace where clients and expert writers connect for assignments.


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