Hello Louise. So glad that you could join us!
I'm the same way, most of the time -- attempting to force an idea when the inspiration isn't there is futile. The best suggestion I have at such times is to engage in the practice of what the Chinese Daoist masters would call wu wei
, or "effortless effort." More concretely stated, you might engage in one of two writing activities that usually seem to work for me (unless I'm too depressed/tired to write, in which case NOTHING works!).
1. Try a simple stream-of-consciousness exercise. That is: write whatever comes through your body/fingertips without stopping to process it first. Who cares if it isn't a "story" with beginning/middle/end, or even if it isn't any good! It's just to get the creative juices flowing. Sometimes you'll find that the idea for a more ambitious work (story, poem, etc.) is to be found there. You may surprise yourself.
2. Use a prompt or constraint. The French OULIPO writers were (and still are) masters of this. Some prompts are inherently constraints, and some constraints read more like prompts. An example of the former would be: Write a story in 1,000 words or less about what you did last weekend, sprinkling it with fictional elements as you go along. An example of the latter: Write a story in exactly
999 words in third-person-limited about what you did last weekend without using any adjectives or adverbs.
Welcome to the community. I'll hopefully be doing a post on Marguerite Yourcenar's Dreams and Destinies
soon, which I was lucky enough to find used for $11.00!
Thanks. I'm going to try the stream-of-consciousness exercise first - I hope it won't be a mass of meaningless jargon centered on my job, but we'll see...
Do you know of any good sources of prompts/constraints?
No, using a crutch like alcohol or drugs in order to coax something out of your muse is cheap. Like slipping a rufie to a date. Yeah, you'll probably score, but talk about your lame lays. Hypnotism as a writing tool is a new one to me. Though I suppose stream-of-consciousness writing can be viewed as a form of self-hypnosis. Which is really just about receptivity. Being open toward the inner and outer world is important. Keeping that door open allows for mix and flow of thoughts and ideas. Creative people don't see a different world, they simply see it differently. Openness leads to another important factor: self-trust. You can't build a good relationship with your unconscious self if you can't trust yourself.
Finally, if you haven't already, build good writing habits. Something as basic as setting aside some daily writing time. It can be as little as 10-15 minutes just get in the habit of writing every day. If possible, it's best if it's at the same time. This creates a writing mindset so while at first it might be forced, eventually it comes like any habit - without conscious thought.
Hey, I could lay a slew of things on you that work for me, but in the end it boils down to gnothi seauton - know thyself. What is creatively conducive for you? Do you prefer minimal distractions or do you thrive on sensory overload? Solo or group writing? Computer or paper? If paper, lined or unlined? Does setting goals or deadlines help or hinder? Think about those times when your creativity flowed. Where were you? What was going on around you? What had you been doing just before or during? Who was there? Or more importantly, who wasn't there? Etc. Etc.
Thanks for the advice!
Does setting goals or deadlines help or hinder?
That's the big one, isn't it? I find it nearly impossible to write at the same time every day, BTW. It all depends on my mood/inspiration, and also to an extent on my schedule (which, in Japan, varied from day to day/week to week, though I've just started an 8-5, so we'll see if this changes somewhat...). You've given some excellent advice, here. How much of it would you say that you follow on a regular basis -- in practice, as opposed to theory, that is? :)
I'd estimate I follow thru on my commitment to write daily (even if only for 5 - 15 minutes) about 90% of the time. Being able to write at the same time each day is about 85%. Being an INTJ and mildly OCD most likely helps since they make me naturally (?) a being of ritual and routine. There will always be those occasions when the goal is not possible, but it's always far more possible if undertaken with the attitude of, "Today, I will write." as opposed to the self-defeating, self-fulfilling prophecy, "If nothing occurs to prevent it, I will try to write today."
This mood/inspiration thing I tend to run across more often among creative writers than other creative types, and to be honest, I don't quite comprehend it. Other creative/talented types always stress the necessity of practicing their craft in order to perfect it. I can't recall ever hearing a musician or an athlete forgoing a daily practice because she wasn't in the mood.
And this might be where we're talking cross-purposes. I get the sense you feel every time you sit down to write it should only be to produce x-amount of words which are publishable/presentable. That's not what I mean when I say I make the effort to write daily. Much of my "scheduled" writing sessions I would compare to a pianist playing scales to keep her fingers and her mind limber. (Plus, the simple act of writing is a pleasure in and of itself for me.) Sometimes, I do produce something worth pursuing further. Sometimes, I produce dreck. But I do believe I am ultimately more productive and more inspired because of my efforts to "keep the door open."