Ten More Shining Inspirational Exercises Or, Thirty Shots at Creative Inspiration, Part Three

You could be writing, right now. I remember spending a strange evening in a hotel room with a somewhat famous poet. She read me Gertrude Stein and made me want to write. I guess people don’t usually take you up to their hotel rooms because they want to make you want to write. She wasn’t inspired to write with me, and I ended up leaving shortly thereafter to drive the long, dark highways of upstate New York to my own apartment with no television in a town with no bookstores. What makes you want to write? Is it the same thing as what makes you actually write? Knowing what makes you work–and not the fantasy you have about what makes you work–is very useful for a writer. Supporting the habits you have–and not the habits you wish you had–takes a lot less energy and provides a lot more creative productivity. In other words, spend your time writing, not changing the way you write. If it helps to fool yourself, you could pick up a pen right now. Really, you are reading this blog, surfing the net, waiting to refresh the status list of your Facebook friends to see who else has posted. But at the same time, let’s say you were holding a pen or opening a blank document on your computer and carelessly, haphazardly throwing down some words, right there on a page or screen. Here are ten more places you might begin. But you can begin anywhere. Any time. You can begin now. The Fine Art and Grunt Work of Inspiration Exercises invented or collected by Elizabeth...

Thirty Shots at Creative Inspiration: Part One

I once taught at a jock/ drinking school in upstate New York. The town was depressed. While once the Finger Lakes had provided commerce, now only the college did so, and as a result, there were about twelve different bars but no place to buy shoes, for example. Anyway, I taught creative writing there, and my first round of students became very frustrated with me because they expected me to teach them how to be creative. I had mistakenly assumed that being young people, they needed only encouragement, channeling and response to their vibrant, overflowing creativity. I taught them craft. I taught them fruitful critique. But I suppose I did not teach them creativity. I still hold that we are chock full of creative impulse. One of my favorite stories about this (but I forget its source, sorry to say) was the woman who told her little girl that she had a new job: she was going to teach drawing to adults. “You mean they forgot how?” the little girl asked. That’s about what happens, I think. We forget how to tell stories–well, maybe not to cops who pull us over for speeding or to spouses who suspect us of flirting with an old flame or to auditors, but in more abstract contexts. I sympathize. How, Annie Dillard asks, on an ordinary day do we set ourselves spinning? (Quoting from memory here with apologies . . .) Here’s a list of ways you might begin. Try one a day for a month. Pull them out when you need them. They come from my own teaching and writing, and they...

Depravation, God and Grammar: Thoughts on Hatemail and Writing

It’s a funny day. The fog gathered around my house this morning, turning everything gray and soft. Now the sun has broken through, but inside my head it still feels gray and soft. I’m in a different library, in the teen room, surrounded by the books that formed me. When I was a child, my father mostly read Scientific American and The New Yorker, and my mother read books about healthy diets and finances and thing. I didn’t know there were adult novels when I was little–though I was delighted to learn that there were. What are the stories burning inside you? What are the books you desperately want to read that do not exist? I put an ad on Craigslist for a babysitter and received, along with a passel of nice replies, the following: “Who gave you the right to have kids? Under Gods law only a man and a women can have kids/raise kids, poor kids what example r u setting foe their future ? In school for instance, ohh yes I have 2 moms, right? They are going to ask, where is your father. Find God get them a real father, meaning! Get a man stop this sin, God made the woman for the man to rule this earth not the sick and depravation you are causing. Find God, you still have time to repent” My own righteousness lies all in the practice of grammar, I suppose. Perhaps school is to grammar as church is to god. There are lots of people who go to school and learn nothing about grammar. There are lots of people...