I don’t know about you but I can get bogged down at this time of year. The weather is challenging where I am. It’s tax season where everybody is. The doldrums before spring have many of us waiting for the active part of life to catapult us into motion again.
For a writer that can mean the idea engine feels like it’s running on empty. Meanwhile there are lots of ways to avoid writing. We can simply not put our butts in our seats and write. We’re not only out of idea engine fuel – we are out of inclination too.
What we’re really out of is access to the idea from heaven. The flash of inspiration when a bolt comes straight out of what we think of as nowhere and knocks us flat with the force of its brilliance. The gift from the universe that says “You must write me right now!”
First of all let’s make one thing very clear. The heavenly universe that generates the perfect gift of the perfect writing idea is not out there somewhere. It is in here inside of each of us. It is your imagination – the most powerful idea engine of all ever. Please don't forget that.
But sometimes – like at the winter doldrums of the year – we feel like we don’t even have access to our own imaginations. That’s when the idea engine needs a kick start – a jolt in the pistons that will give us just enough boost to get up out of our down places and write.
My two favorite kick starts are eavesdropping and rubbernecking. My two favorite venues are coffee shops and public transportation. In coffee shops I listen in on conversations. On public transportation I watch everything both outside the windows and inside the conveyance.
I don’t listen in for the whole story though sometimes that’s fascinating. I listen for a sentence or maybe just a phrase that catches my ear with a special sense or rhythm. I don’t rubberneck to take in the whole scene. I look for a detail that strikes my eye with special vividness.
The next absolutely imperative step is to make a record of this moment. Write it down – the phrase that caught you or the detail that struck you. I have too often firmly believed that one of these moments was so precious and particular I could not possibly forget it. Then I did.
What you do after that is up to you. You can write right there. Coffee shops are good for that. Or you can keep your idea note in reserve for the next time you get the empty tank feeling. Or you can simply let it rattle around in your writer's imagination for a while and see what idea gifts burst forth.
By the way – when you can’t get out into the world beyond your front door – eavesdrop on the worlds inside that door both real and virtual. First bug your family and friends. Then tune the device of your choice to a talk or reality show. You’ll find catchy phrases and striking images by the carload. I guarantee it.
Wherever you are – in or outside your customary physical environment – in or outside your interior environment – inspiration is there. Lift your antennae just an inch and you will find it. When you do – be sure to give thanks – because it is always the idea from heaven.