The World is Your Writing Oyster

Oyster_shell_pearl_265851_lA couple weeks ago I was greatly taken by a lecture I heard about the writing life, given by Helena Kriel at the Spalding MFA spring residency.

The talk was, essentially, about how everything in the world feeds into our writing lives and our writing–if we are but present to the world.  Further, when we are being present, seeking our deepest thoughts within and putting them onto the page, we are involved in the same sorts of transformation that sages and gurus and lamas and mystics have sought for millennia.

Being Present

Ever since I heard this lecture, this is what I have strived to do.  I have done my best to be present during my writing time, and not give in to the distractions of email, Twitter, or news stories on the Internet. And beyond that, I've really been working on an awareness of how I interact with the world when I'm not writing.

No Such Thing As Boring

For instance, when I'm doing something "boring."  I put that word in quotes because I truly believe that boring is all in the mind of the person being bored.  Instead of giving into the boredom, I try to find something in front of me that makes the event interesting.  This could be the smallest of detail–a splash of red geranium while weeding the garden, a jet flying overhead that causes me to wonder where its headed and who is on it, that person walking by with a scowl on her face.

Cultivating Ideas

It is this kind of attitude that will feed a constant flow of ideas into your writing.  And ideas are the lifeblood of the creative person, aren't they?  We need a constant flow of them, not only for new projects but for our WIPs.  Ideas come from the world around us joining with what's already within, and for this to happen one must be present, observe and practice deep listening.

Other Ideas for Ideas

–Keep an idea book.  Because if you don't write them down, they will disappear.  Ideas are sneaky creatures that like to be recognized.  I find my ideas tend to get lost if I write them only in my journal, so I keep a spiral notebook devoted solely to ideas.  I swear, once I close the cover they breed and have babies–which is exactly what you want to happen.

–Put them on the page, nowhere else.  This is not true for everybody, but it's true for a lot of creative people–talking about ideas dissipates them.  They belong on the page, not in conversation with your spouse or BFF.  Ideas are fragile and need care and tending, which is best done with pen and paper.

–Let them flow.  Ideas tend to morph.  If we exert too much control over them, say, not letting them go in a new direction when they want to, they stagnate.  You may think your book is really about robots but your idea mind suddenly says its about aliens.  Go with it.  You may get back to the robots eventually.  Or not.

When you cultivate an attitude like this, and take good care of your ideas, the world truly will be your oyster–you'll be inundated with so many ideas you won't know what to do with them.  And not only is this wonderful for your writing, it's an amazing way to live in the times when you're not writing.

What's your best tip for cultivating ideas?

Photo by roym.

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11 Responses to The World is Your Writing Oyster

  1. J.D. 06/06/2013 at 04:25 #

    I haven’t tried it, but I wonder about taking my idea book to the mall and getting in a little people watching. The mall is probably not the best spot–maybe the flea market. #2 I read this from someone I can’t recall: go to sleep with your protagonist (or I suppose any character) in your head. Good stuff, Charlotte.

  2. Don 06/06/2013 at 05:19 #

    The idea of always taking a idea book with you is a great one, but, for me anyway, I find that I have a real tendency, or problem, to misplaced them or loose them, rendering them some what mute! As for J.D’s suggestion of going to the mall for ideas is a good one for me. the more activity the more likely I am to come up with some great ideaas, and, besides, people watching can be fun, fun, fun whether or not you get any ideas from them at all.

  3. Zan Marie 06/06/2013 at 05:53 #

    Idea books work! I’ve filled several over the years. If only 1% of the ideas grow into more, it’s a enough. ; )

  4. Charlotte Dixon 06/06/2013 at 08:01 #

    That is a great idea, J.D.  Sometimes I go to the coffee shop and just describe people, but the mall or flea market is even better because you'd get a more diverse crowd.  And yeah, the whole sleeping with your character thing is helpful, too.  I love being in that place when I'm so connected with a story in progress that I'm thinking of it all the time.

  5. Charlotte Dixon 06/06/2013 at 08:02 #

    So very true, Zan Marie!  And that 1% is probably about the percentage we could possibly hope to achieve if the ideas are flowing.

  6. Charlotte Dixon 06/06/2013 at 08:03 #

    One thing you can do about that is just note ideas wherever, in your journal, on a scrap of paper you carry with you, and then transfer it to your idea book. And yes, people watching is the best!

  7. Square-Peg Karen 06/06/2013 at 09:01 #

    I’ve always loved watching people, but have rarely written my thoughts/ideas/inspirations around watching them. I’m going to experiment with this because I think it’d be a good exercise even for a non-fiction writer like myself!

    Love all the ideas here, Charlotte – thanks!

  8. Don 06/07/2013 at 07:01 #

    Ahhhh…. but my problem is that I’ll just lose my scraps just as easily. Of course, I could also just get an iPhone, or iPad, and an app like Vesper. This way I can record my thoughts, and then the app will automatically sync them (my ideas) with that of all my Apple devices, giving me, El-Forgetful, my thoughts and ideas any old time, and any old where, I either need or want them!

  9. Charlotte Dixon 06/07/2013 at 08:22 #

    I actually use my Iphone for notes a lot–especially if I'm out walking.  It really comes in handy!  And then you won't lose those scraps. 

  10. Amanda 06/08/2013 at 06:28 #

    You just gave me an epiphany! When I’m bored at work I could easily be crafting characters out of my coworkers and our customers! I can’t believe I’ve never thought of this before!.

  11. Charlotte Dixon 06/08/2013 at 07:31 #

    Love me some epiphanies.  And I think that's a great idea, Amanda.  I try to remember to do that when I'm out and about.  It is just a matter of getting out of my own head and worries and remembering to focus outward.  I think its better for our mental health as well.

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