Igniting Ideas

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   There’s been a full moon. Spring Break was this last week. Everything is blooming. My favorite store is having a sale and I totally got lost in the sales racks for, like, five hours! Do any of these sound familiar? The reasons (i.e., excuses) we use for not “sitting down and writing” are as creative as our work! There’s no getting around the muse when it wakes up and wants to be heard. You have practiced with setting your intention daily. There are long-term and short-term goals, perhaps even mapped out on a calendar. Even though you have done all this in the past, and today seems no different, including having purchased your perfect pen or ergonomic keyboard, a new office chair, you’ve hired a babysitter, made arrangements with your significant other, have New Age music playing softly in the background, . . . and then nothing comes. The paper is blank. There is no movie on the screen in your head, or what you do see and hear is from the sit com you watched at eleven o’clock last night. Now what?

   You have a few choices. Packing it up and calling it a day is certainly the easiest (especially if you lay off the guilt for not having created a single sentence).  After that, you can: begin a daily diary of events that occurred that week, write a to-do list, jot down ideas for your next vacation, begin a letter to your mother or grandmother, brainstorm ideas for your next party, stare out the window and write down everything you see, or grab a book off the shelf, flipping open to any page, read it, and make a list of your ten favorite words. What does any of this have to do with your muse sleeping on the job? It’s an alarm clock. If the juices aren’t flowing on your project, this at least primes the pumps.

   Something else you can do, that I’ve used a few times myself, is giving free rein to your muse just to see what it will come up with. Here’s a suggestion for how to go about triggering your imagination with ideas:

   1) Sit in a different place than you’re used to. If you usually hang out in your home office, try the front porch, a coffee shop, your car, the bathroom, or drag a chair out to the mailbox and pretend you’re waiting for the mail carrier.

   2) Spend just a couple of minutes staring around you. The mind loves novelty and will be enthralled with the new scenery if you give it a few minutes to indulge in the new sights and sounds. You may notice something that is worth writing down.

   3) If you’re outside and wearing sunglasses, this is easy. If you’re inside, cup your non-writing hand around your forehead and stare down at your notebook. Now, either way, close your eyes. Typically, most people are inundated with their thoughts. Those of use who meditate on a regular basis can find the quiet fairly easily. If you’re one whose thoughts swirl around, gently push them aside and ‘look’ for the dark, the place where we are not disturbed by visual stimuli. If you catch a glimpse and then it is gone, don’t fret, as that will only chase it further away.

   4) Breathe. Regular meditators are all about focusing on the breath as a way to drop out of the busyness of the mind. Not that the thoughts go away, but they can recognize the space between the thoughts, the silence that exists under the constant chatter. If you’ve never tried to meditate (first, I suggest the practice as it works on several levels), that’s alright. You can do this step anyway. Breathe. With your eyes closed, follow the rise and fall of your chest and/or belly. What is the next thought that catches your attention? Write it down.

   Practice with this technique. I’ve been able to list twenty sentences at a session with closing my eyes, breathing, and waiting for the next picture to flash on the screen in my mind. They are often very different from each other. Because I tend to write en medias res (see an earlier blog by the same title), the characters don’t have a name and something nefarious is often about to occur. Once you have a few of these recorded, pick one, and use it as the first sentence in a short story, or the title of a poem. From there, turn on the light and perhaps drag the covers from the foot of the bed where your muse has been resting, and see if it sits up and takes notice. Do you find a setting blooming? What action happens next? Where is the character going, and are they by themselves, or being hauled, dragged, led, or guided? Is the character feeling a particular emotion? If so, what in their immediate environment reflects that emotion?

   Even if you don’t write the next ‘Great American Novel’ or become Poet Laureate, perhaps this exercise will grease the gears of your imagination. Even our muse becomes bored. Surprise it. Reinvigorate your desire to create. When I’ve used this, several short stories and poems have sprung from the deepest part of me, which, the more I use it, the closer to the surface it lives. Chapters of my novels and other writings are available for free reading on my web site www.myjoyenterprises.com The new and improved site is coming soon!

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