Archives: Inspiration

The Alchemy of Place

Thursday, April 2, 2020, Lockdown continues until April 30, or beyond.

Think of the places you habitate in a day. You may be drawn to the kitchen by aromas, bread baking, chocolate in cookies or a roast as it nears completion. Each of those dishes is common or foreign to you. You might be vegan and wretch at the thought of what is in your world a dietary travesty. None the less kitchens are important whether you cook or store your shoes in the oven.

We spend more time in the bathroom than we like to admit. I’d say more than ever in lockdown.  With the advent of Zoom as an instrument of communication, my mirror time has increased. I hear Gloria Swanson as Norma Desmond in Sunset Boulevard, “I’m ready for my closeup Mr. De Mille.”

My office, once a place of isolated sanctuary, is ignored. As a writer, I believed that I had to be in the right chair at my desk triggered by a never defined bio-rhythm. My office now reeks of further confinement. Lockdown has proven my iPad and any flat surface will do.

The bedroom has become a nest. Clean sheets every other day, fluffed pillows, a heated mattress pad, and stacks of books at the ready to fit the mood of the moment. It waits for me at the end of the day as eager as a lustful paramour.

Place in writing is as important as the protagonist. He or she is shaped by where they have been, where they are and where they want to be. Place adds depth, drama, and emotion. It incorporates all the senses. As a former Chicagoan, I exited my el stop each morning inundated by chocolate perfume, thanks to Blommer’s Chocolate Factory. I greedily inhaled its exhaust before continuing to work, the perfect start to my workday. Others at the same exit covered their noses in disgust describing the smell as overwhelming, cloying, gross. They never longed for the Golden Ticket on offer by Willy Wonka. They are fodder for different characters thanks to their contrasting emotions and triggers, protagonists perhaps? Same place plus different drivers equal diverse characters and opportunities for story.

Suffer from Writer’s Block? Place is the perfect Ninja to crack writer’s block. Have your character go to the kitchen. Why? Have him make a sandwich or get pissed off the milk is gone. Have her go to the bathroom and find his sock on the floor inches from the hamper. Emotion will spring up and the words will flow. Characters, like us, require moments of the mundane to be read as real. 

Inspiration Comes in Many Forms

Inspiration comes in many forms and is often missed for a lack of attention. I met Julia Cameron, in Seattle in 1995, at a Center for Creative Education event. I had no idea that a casual introduction and brief chat would change my life.

Her message, own your creativity, resonated like nothing before.
She became my pied piper. I did morning pages with verve, set ritual artist’s dates for myself and created personal radar to identify and repel the destructive shadow artists in my life.

Morning Pages

At our meeting, I asked, “MS. Cameron do you offer classes on The Artist’s Way or can you recommend a teacher in Seattle?”

            “No, why?”

            “I love this book and I’d like to develop a class around it.”

            “Then do.”

Her ease and graciousness shocked me. As an aside, she wore a hand-painted dress by a Taos artist that I coveted. The dress flowed with the same grace as her answer. In that moment I learned to share my creativity not to hug it to my chest. I took her at her word and offered classes based on her book and its principles.

Teaching became a love. But after multiple cross country moves and many class sessions, I realized I had become a shadow artist as an acolyte of Julia Cameron. My desire was to write. I knew I had a book in me. When asked, on occasion, as I changed jobs and locales, “What do you plan to do next?”

            My cavalier response was, “I’m going to write a book.”

In retrospect, I realize it was an uninformed declaration. As uninformed as when several decades earlier I said, “I want a baby.”

Just as I knew nothing about babies or the speed they turn into self-actualized teens, I had no idea what it took to put one word after another to form a sentence or to compile sentences into a paragraph. Sure, I knew the mechanics. I had written hundreds of business letters and managed multiple product documentation teams but I had not allowed myself to write creatively.

Time to put up or shut up. I bought the perfect desk, placed it in the ideal spot and acquired two drawers full of pens, pencils, highlighters, and multi-hued and sized post-it notes. I used my working knowledge of MSWord to create a chapter and version number scheme. I added three jump drives to my supply collection to ensure sufficient space for regular backup of my masterworks.

50words

I also had multiple blank legal pads, notebooks bound in leather, composition books and a mound of scattered thoughts on scraps of paper.  My despicable computer display reflected every attempt as imperfection.  I needed inspiration.

I didn’t want some words or some sentences, I wanted perfection, the lightning bolt idea crafted into a gold star publication. I was ready. I had the tools of my chosen art.

Where does one find inspiration? I have no idea. True, there are writers who have lived through extraordinary adventures or who have had an idea that nags until writing, medication or insanity are the plausible cures. Based on the thousand plus writers I have worked with, the inspired are a rare breed.

For most of us, books come from work, not blinding inspiration. We must face the demon of the blank page or screen. We must set goals and we must do the work. No one else can tell your story. If not now, when?

© 2020 Lee Heffner – Author