Sitting at a desk in front of a blank computer screen or piece of paper – that is the image of the writer beginning to work. Ready to dump creativity onto a blank canvas. But how often does that really happen? Yes, writers need to develop a discipline to sit down and write. I’m doing that at the moment. But sometimes this needs to take place away from our normal environment in order to engage new creativity muscles.
Many years ago, in what seems another life, I had the opportunity to spend a day at an unusual idea generating site – the Eureka! Ranch. Before arriving, I thought we would be in yet another office space, walls lined with newsprint ready for a day of brainstorming. However, when we drove into the parking lot it was immediately apparent that this place would be different. We were not entering an office complex, but parking in front of an actual ranch house – complete with full-length front porch. Once inside the doors color, sound, and images were everywhere. Our facilitators used a multitude of games, pictures, and conversations to help to generate ideas beyond those that we already held. It was not only about getting down what’s inside, but providing an environment that nurtures more.
As writers we’re not creating the next great toy or tool or program that needs to fit in with the marketing expectations of the public. Writing is a solitary activity, except for times of feedback from friends and editors. Yet, we too are creating a product that will have an audience. We are looking for new ideas that will connect with other people while still being true to our individual strengths and interests. What external stimuli help you to make these connections? For me it’s often a place – especially places that put me in other stories.
When I wrote my comprehensive exams for a masters degree in English I left the campus of Xavier University. In ten minutes I was in Cincinnati’s Eden Park sitting on the lawn with bluebooks and pen in hand. Being able to look up and see the sun and gaze at the gardens was so different than sitting at a formica desk under fluorescent lights. I don’t know if I wrote anything more insightful in this place, but my spirit sure was different. I didn’t freeze up when I encountered a difficult question and I felt that I was in the midst of serious play – even during a timed exam.
Later, while working on ideas for papers during my doctoral studies and finally a dissertation, I again went outside – on walks, to museums, and even across the country. At times I would just sit at home in front of the computer, willing ideas to come. I would also force myself to write and put words on the page – often very uninspired. But when I allowed myself to go out, something would snap inside and I would picture a new way of putting together the ideas. At some point in the process I would have to sit and compose, edit, and rewrite, and rewrite. However, mixing up the places where I did these things made a difference.
Where do you need to go to create? To the park down the street, the desk in the midst of bulging library shelves, or even overseas. Places between your current life and the one you envision. Places where you walk in, take a large breath, and relax.