Fueling the Writer Within

Issue 61

Fueling the Writer Within

By Michele Acker

Copyright © 2011, Michele Acker, All Rights Reserved


Writers are told to write what they know. Whether you believe this advice or not, it's inescapably true. All writers, whether they write fiction, non-fiction or poetry, can only write about what they've seen or experienced or learned. And over time, as we continue to write, we use up those experiences until there's nothing left to draw from and our writing becomes either dull and tedious, or the same thing written over and over again. Unless we can find a way to provide our writer's souls with fresh ideas and knowledge, eventually we will run out of things to say.


Consider the metaphor of a campfire if you will. You start with kindling then heap on bigger and bigger logs until your fire is blazing away. But if you don't continue to add fuel, eventually the fire will dwindle and finally die out. So in a way, we consume our past to fuel our writing.


So how do we keep our ideas fresh and interesting? How do we keep those creative fires burning? By stimulating our brains with new experiences, new images and new information.


Following are five easy ideas anyone can use and some examples to inspire you.


1) Get Out of the Rut. Admit it, everyone's in a rut of one kind or another. You drive the same way home from work every day, you shop at the same store, you eat at the same restaurant. Why? Because it's safe and easy. We can do it without thinking. So, get out of that rut! Take a different route home. Take five different routes home, one for each day of the week. Drive through neighborhoods you've never seen before. If you write at home, start writing in the library, or McDonalds, or the local Starbucks. If you already write at Starbucks, try a new location or just change tables. Go to work a half hour earlier, leave work a half hour later. Shop at the little Vietnamese market down the street, or the all night store across town. Try a new restaurant, or a new beauty shop, or a new movie theater. Maybe you'll find a new favorite.


Though I've lived in Sacramento all my life, I know little about the parts of town I don't or haven't lived in. Trying to get out of my rut, I started driving through neighborhoods I wasn't familiar with and found homes for several of the characters in my novel, Portal to Murder, including the childhood home of my protagonist. The house didn't play a large part in the plot, but seeing it gave me some great insight into my character and how she grew up.


2) Pay Attention. You may think you already pay attention, but do you really? When was the last time you looked at a building's architecture, really looked? Do you know how old it is, how it was built or who designed it? When was the last time you noticed the beggar on the corner, or that abandoned lot across the street, or the way the sun shines through your bedroom window? You see those things so often you barely notice them anymore. Start noticing them again. Pay attention to the things around you. You'll be surprised at what you see.


Romantic Suspense author, Allison Brennan, got the idea for her short story, A Capitol Obsession, by wandering around the state capitol, opening doors and exploring parts of the capitol she'd never been in or paid attention to before even though she'd worked there for years.


Fantasy writer, Paul Crilley, visits the mountains regularly for family gatherings. One winter he noticed how dry the air was, how starkly blue the sky, how brown and dusty yellow the mountains. This new look at a familiar place gave him the setting for his Slyth characters in his upcoming novel, Memories of Stone.


3) Learn New Things. Think about what interests you. Learn about it. Subscribe to a magazine you've never read before and read every issue. Take a class. Take two classes. If you can't afford to take a class, try watching the History Channel, or the Discovery Channel or the Military Channel. They all have tons of wonderfully informative programs covering everything from crab fishing to weapons of the future to hidden passageways under London's streets.


Fantasy writer, Sheri McGathy, came up with both the plot and the entire fictional world for her novel, Within the Shadow of Stone, from watching a program on the History Channel about the stone circles of Great Britain.


Try new things even if you're sure you'll fail. Always wanted to paint but afraid you wouldn't be any good? Try it anyway. Take a psychology class. Learn how to cook, or blow glass or throw pottery. Take fencing lessons, or archery lessons or ballroom dancing lessons. Go back to school. Get a degree in Political Science, or Medieval History or English Literature. Whatever turns you on. Whatever stimulates you. Learning is addictive. Once you start, you never want to stop.


4) Hang Out. Go to the mall or the zoo or your favorite coffee shop and just hang out. Sit in the courtroom during a trial. Watch people. Pay attention to the way they move, the way they walk, the way they interact with each other. Are they shy or reserved? Do they tap their foot or twirl their hair or laugh too loudly? Listen to what people say and how they say it. Do their voices carry? Do they sound whiney or nervous or demanding? Watch and listen and take notes.


One day during lunch, I overheard two men discussing butcher shops who routinely dress hunter's game. I started wondering what happens with poached game and that gave me the idea for my short story, Dragon's Blood.


Allison Brennan writes regularly at various Starbucks in her neighborhood. After she realized that one particular Starbucks was a meeting place for people from various internet dating sites, it gave her the idea to have a character in her novel, Fear No Evil, get kidnapped in front of a Starbucks as she's waiting to meet a date.


5) Travel. If you can afford to travel to exotic places, great, but if you can't, don't worry. There are still plenty of things you can do locally. Rent a car for the weekend and take a drive. Visit nearby towns you've never been to or haven't seen in years. Drive through open country. Take a hike by the river.


There are lots of places you can explore, even in your home town. Better yet, treat your home town as a vacation destination. Pretend you've never been there before. If you were a tourist, where would you go? Request a visitor's guide from your local Chamber of Commerce. Visit your library and borrow some travel guides and a book of the town's history. Buy a map. Plot your trip. Stay at a local hotel. Take a bus or a cable car or the light rail if your city has them and see where they go. Make up a list of all the museums and art galleries and visit as many as you can. Check out the night life. Go to a play. A person can live for years in the same place and never realize what's available. Learn what your city has to offer.


Recently, Romance author, Kate Perry, wandered through the art galleries where she lived when she saw a painting by Courbet. She started imagining the scene, what the heroine would say, how the hero would reply and five minutes later she was sitting on the bench writing the chapter for her novel, Project Date. You never know what will inspire you or trigger a new idea.


Writing is a solitary business with little to stimulate our writer's brain. But it doesn't have to be. Follow any or all of these simple suggestions and you too can keep your creative fires burning for years to come.