How I begin writing

There are many ways people go about firing up the creative impulse and coming up with solid ideas or even the beginnings of a writing project.  I wish I had some foolproof method for beginning that flowed progressively forward through completion of a written work.  I don’t.  Just a couple of days ago, I tried to just do a simple exercise, and although I put a few things down, I would probably have been better served getting some sleep or trying to draw.  My brain adamantly refused to process verbally.

Normally though, I can usually flip the switch and actually do something simple at the least.  To that end, I use a number of very basic methods to “try” to get into the writing frame of mind and to “try” to get inspired.  Below is a straight copy and paste from the same text file where I’ve done a few quick exercises over a couple of days.  I’ll break them down.

The first part was from a few days ago.  I had the word minstrel pop into my head and immediately starting thinking of a scene where a minstrel played for a small group of people in a tavern.  I wrote the first word down and then jotted down the remaining words as I thought about the scene.

Minstrel
Onus
Lamplight
Dawn
Walls

As I thought about it, I expanded the visual image to include a walled city in the early dawn.  Yes, I know that my recent infatuation with that time of day is getting a little out of hand, but that’s also the way it goes when you spend a lot of time thinking about something while revising other work.  And I have no idea where Onus came from, but I put it down regardless.

Anyway, after only a few seconds, I had a short list, but I also had a visual image in my head of a scene.  So I wrote the first line below.  From there I followed the progression of what the light would do as it played across the stone walls and wrote the second line.  Then I brought the minstrel in and completed the stanza with a rhyming fourth verse that fit with the dynamic scene I had evolving in my mind’s eye.

The dying sun casts fitful rays at the cold stone walls of the keep.
Shadows grow in cracks and bowls among that flinty face.
Minstrels tune the lute and lyre in preparation for the night.
Chandlers with their waxy wands spread light about the place.

I don’t know if I’ll ever do anything more with this, but it has at least a little potential as the beginning of a poem that tells a story.  You’ll also notice that I consciously shifted away from dawn toward dusk, which changed my mindset but also fit the feeling of a beginning of a long evening rather than the closing of one.

Later in the same day, I was thinking about my unborn child.  I’ve always been a little distractible, so it shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone who knows me that I was randomly daydreaming about a child six months from birth.  During my imaginings, I thought about the fact that this is my first child, and that although I’ve been around and helped rear many children of both family and friends, this will be the first time when I have real weight behind what I say and do when I raise my child.  So I thought about what I would tell him or her.  The quick list of thoughts that follow is the result.

Letter to my unborn child

I hope you are better than me. That is my wish, my greatest desire. I want you to understand the benefit of hard work better and much sooner than I did. I want you understand kindness and selflessness without having to endure the worst of those lessons. I want you to be a person to inspire others. I want you to be judged and scrutinized by everyone and never be found lacking. I want you to be successful.

These are tiny little sentences that wrap up huge moments in my life.  I think it likely I will tell my child all the truth I can muster as he or she grows, and so I stopped writing this exercise because I realized the futility of trying to wrangle that kind of scope into even a grand volume, so much experience to mete out.  Yet, I also stopped because I realized that the little bit I wrote could be used to start countless other things as I expounded upon the events I learned from growing up.

Then earlier today I was working on the Early Dawn draft and playing with verses that were thematically similar.  I started with a mental image of early dawn and hit upon the following bit of verse:

Fitful traces of radiance draw forth form
From the erstwhile edges or deepest night
Depths resolve to surrender themselves
To the inevitable advance of invasive light

This verse doesn’t work with the other stanzas in Early Dawn, so I left it alone and moved on to the verse that I did include in the previous post.  I like some of this short stanza, and although it didn’t work as originally intended, it stimulated me enough to write the additional stanza.  Maybe I’ll come back to this at some point or incorporate it.

And the last bit is some simple verse I jotted down after seeing the word “stirrings” in the Early Dawn draft stanza I had written.  I thought about the word and started putting down some verse.

A stirring is felt within.
It is not something of the mind,
But of the soul.
How dare I speak of the soul,
Yet dismiss it as fantasy or mythology.
How and why and what are questioned,
And where are answers to be found.

It wasn’t meant to be thematic or even cohesive, but as one verse led to another, I started to tie them together more.  Again, this is just an exercise.  I’ll probably not use any of this, but if looking back on it another time, I find myself inspired, then it is a success as a writing exercise.

I guess I’d have to say I have two overall approaches to getting inspired.  The first and most common for me is through visual imagery, be it a mental image I construct of a scene or event or something I witness first hand.  Based on the vision, I create action or observation that I then feel compelled to put down on paper.  The second approach is verbal.  Hearing or thinking about a word or phrase is often the stimulus that causes me to want to write it down.  Once I have put something down, my mind naturally wants to toy with it and see if there is more to be coaxed from the words.

I’m not trying to espouse any method of divining inspiration, as I truly believe it’s a personal thing that has to be found out.  In all honesty, this post is more about self exploration than about sharing my experience.  If you find it useful or at least interesting, that’s just a bonus.

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