Using your travels to inspire great writing is not the same as writing what you know. As I mentioned in previous posts, I do not believe in that simplistic approach. However, visiting new places has a tendency to spark our imaginations. Whether it is the sound of a massive waterfall or the saffron color of a certain autumn-turned leaf, inspiration can be found anywhere you look for it.
I recently took a road trip from Los Angeles to Flagstaff using Route 66. Honestly, the view wasn’t so different from the Interstate, except in a few select places. After my first night in Flagstaff, I made the short journey down to Sedona, the legendary and mystical home of the Red Rocks. I can truthfully say that I have never seen anything so beautiful. Who would have thought that a desert could be so magical? Photographs do not do it justice. In a rented, well-equipped jeep, I took to the off-roads. I saw the Seven Sacred Pools at Soldier’s Pass. Native peoples believe the pools are magical due to the fact that they never dry up no matter how bad of drought the region is having. The pools were buzzing with life. Hundreds of tiny tadpoles swam about, biding their time until they become adults. Also along this trail was a massive sinkhole that could have devastated the area. It didn’t though. Deep down at the bottom, trees, bushes, and ground cover grew up through the rumble. How persistent! On the second trail, this one much higher than the last, I stopped at the Hunaki Ruins. Carved into the side of a mountain more than one thousand years ago were the remains of what used to be a community. It was quite humbling to see just how far this country has come. In the evening, I stopped by a park, swam in a flooded river, made friends with a snail struggling in a thunderstorm, and took some of the most breathtaking photographs in my life.
On day two I braved the torrential rains and headed up to the Grand Canyon. Words cannot describe the forest north of Flagstaff, especially during a thunderstorm. I passed a small chapel on the side of the road, and it beckoned me to turn back around. I spent a good hour in that place. I wasn’t praying or attempting to plan an event, I was simply listening. The smell of the rain, the sound of nearby thunder, lightning illuminating the dark forest in the backdrop; it was almost too much for my senses. I waited for the rain to stop before moving on because in Los Angeles we do not get hardly any. Being from Arkansas, a state well known for its pop-up weather, I have developed a sort of longing for that rain. I finally made it to the Grand Canyon, the main reason for my road trip, and had no trouble finding parking. The place was slammed, but I simply got lucky and found a spot right up front. It wasn’t a long walk to the edge. I was beginning to think the experience would be ruined by the throngs of people pushing and shoving. However, once I got to the guard rails and looked out at the painted canyon, I was overwhelmed by the enormity of it all. It didn’t seem real. How could this place, this seemingly never-ending place, be real? It was as if I had just stepped into a painting, and everyone else melted away. I spent the rest of the day exploring viewpoints that were less travelled and watched the now distant thunderstorm rage on against the vibrant sunset.
Do you have to goes on a cross-country trip to find inspiration? Of course not. We find inspiration all around us wherever we are. I will admit that actually experiencing the beauty of Arizona has opened my imagination even more. Pictures and videos cannot explain the majesty of it all. I can say with the utmost certainty that I will be using my travels to my own writing advantage.
Next week, I will write more about travelling, but it will focus on small towns. Stay tuned!
So, this is me being random. This is also me sharing 5 secrets about myself as a writer. Enjoy!
I don’t write in the Christian genre. As I mentioned in an earlier post, write what you don’t know. And I know Christianity. It’s all I’ve ever known, so I tend to stray away from this topic in my writing. Although, I love reading Christian non-fiction. Any suggestions on good books? Please leave them in the comments!
I have a lot of trouble writing sci-fi. I honestly don’t know why. I feel like part of it is that you have to make up the society as well as the characters’ stores. It’s just a lot. It’s overwhelming. And I change my mind like no tomorrow.
One of my first book attempts included a motif of dandelions. Every book attempt since then has also included dandelions in some way. One time it had to do with the theme of “possibilities,” and another time it was part of a counseling technique.
I use poetry to vent. If I’ve been mad at you, there’s probably a poem about you on my computer. If you’ve hurt me? There’s probably a bunch of them.
I love writing suspenseful stuff—murder attempts, arson, fights. It gets my blood pumping. It’s fast-paced and exciting. Some of my favorite scenes have been some of my most intense.
I go back and re-read for sense, to see if I have written parts that are superfluous (often the case, sadly) or if I have not written parts that need to be there (also a fairly frequent occurrence).
I look at other macro issues too, such as: is there too much exposition? Is there enough conflict? Are these characters believable? Is there enough sensory detail? Is there any suspense? In other words, all the time I am asking myself why anyone would want to read this.
I look for repetitions too, factual inaccuracies and other kinds of mistakes.
The other thing I do, which I know Martin Amis does too, is re-read each sentence for sound. Every sentence has to sound good. Every sentence. If it doesn’t, it either has to be rewritten or thrown out. This is partly a question of rhythm, but also a question of the sounds of words, the originality of the words, the syntax.
I don’t want to write any boring sentences. I think that’s basically it. It’s somewhat haphazard, and I don’t necessarily do one step before the other in any regular order. A lot of it is pure feel and instinct.
That was the title of my first poem. I was around 10 when I wrote it, and one of the stanzas went something like this:
Homeis not just a place where you eat and sleep Home is not just a place built to makea place look neat Homeis where the heartis.
Okay, maybe not, but it was my first tentative step into the world of writing.
I remember riding my bike in the driveway, circle after circle, rhyme after rhyme, and stanza after stanza.
I remember the amazing feeling I had when I was finished.
I had written something.
I had written a poem.
I remember my second poem.
I remember poems about flowers and waves and horses. I remember bad poems and good poems. I remember the book where I use to write them all in cursive.
Around the same age, I wrote a story about a mermaid, later “published” by my uncle using his computer.
And now, over 10 years later, there’s more stories, different stories.
There’re stories about love and loss, poems about betrayal and heartache. There’re words that tell stories about ghosts and those that tell character’s secrets.
I guess what I’m trying to say is:
It started with a poem.
One badly written poem by a 10-year-old girl.
Who would’ve thought that those few stanzas would lead to this? To me? To this blog? I sure wouldn’t have.
So what did I learn from all of this?
Bad writing can (and will) turn into good writing, if you keep at it.
It’s an incredible feel to hold something you wrote tangibly in your hand. I still remember holding that mermaid story for the first time. Print things out. It’s worth it.
Even the young writer in me was dealing with very large themes. The mermaid story had loss and love as did many of my poems around that same time. Chances are, even if your themes don’t feel very large, they are.
Write. Write. Write.
That 10-year-old girl knew a truth that would take this 23-year-old years to learn: Home truly is where the heart is.
There is a lot of good advice on the internet, and one of the things writers struggle with is motivation, so not surprisingly, there is a lot of good advice out there on how to stay motivated. I’ve combed the internet and my own personal experiences to bring you what I believe is a pretty decent list of the salient points:
Clean your space. You owe it to yourself.
Daydream. Brainstorming is part of the process.
HABIT: You’ve heard the phrase “butt in the chair” or its variations. The writing won’t happen if you don’t give yourself the time to do so. Set a date with yourself and commit to being there. Show up. Repeat. The habit is what matters most. There is no such thing as a bad at the keyboard. Or, bad writing is better than no writing.
Break the big project up into smaller pieces. If you’re writing a 55,000 word novel in three months, you need to write about 612 words each day.
Give yourself deadlines. Write them down, hold yourself accountable.
Give yourself rewards (and consequences). Rather than just buying that specialty five dollar coffee beverage, earn it. Didn’t do your writing today? Maybe you have to skip tv until you catch up.
Use procrastination to your advantage. Are you avoiding your math homework, housework, or exercise? Trick yourself into writing while avoiding other tasks.
And if you’re a visual person, like me, here are some visuals: