As writers we need places that feed our creative energy, but these places can be very different for each of us.
I know people who sit in cafes, thriving off the background noise and part heard conversations of others. I have done this myself but only usually at the planning stage when I’m writing notes by hand. Some of us need to engage with friends or strangers in towns and cities. We might take a tour round a cathedral or museum or stand in a hectic shopping centre to let ideas find their way to us. Architecture old and new can embolden the pen. Tales of past lives or strange artefacts can suggest stories to us. On a visit to Canterbury museum this summer, my daughters and I came across a mummified cat which certainly brought a sense of history, and horrified grimaces to our faces. Artwork too can suggest ideas. Tracy Chevalier would certainly agree with her Girl with a Pearl Earring novel inspired by the Johannes Vermeer painting.
Journeys can spark the writer’s muse. Some of my favourite novels of all time have involved moving the characters great distances. Lord of the Rings being the perfect example and the classic Watership Down. If you’re feeling devoid of ideas why not take a road trip out somewhere or go for a walk choosing those paths you’ve never taken before. Get lost for a while. Being in a car as driver or passenger, particularly on a long journey can allow excellent thinking time as the scenery blurs behind you. I’ve been lucky enough to fly many times and I can just stare out of the window at the clouds for hours pondering new worlds.
The places that feed you don’t need to involve big events. Sometimes you have all your ideas for a novel ready, but sitting in the park for a few hours might help you write a descriptive passage within that framework. I take a lot of photographs when I’m out walking because they can jog my memory of how vibrant colours are, or remind me of some crucial thoughts.
Writers with busy full time day jobs might need to take a weekend away or wait for their annual holiday before they can fill their creativity well back up. I find myself drawn to write specifically of places in Britain, but being excited by a foreign holiday might draw you to write notes and gather mementoes to bring home for some future work.
Water is always an inspiration for writing emotional scenes for me. Sitting by some crashing waves can aid the writing of an argument. A meandering river can give some insight into your character’s uncertainty. Take a swim in summer or paddle in winter. I once discovered I had a hole in my welly when I was standing in a shallow river, and had to slosh back to the car with frozen toes. Little personal events like that will always spill into your writing.
If you haven’t the time to go out then use your home as a place that feeds you. Can you try to view your possessions as if with another’s eye? Perhaps you have mobility problems or are sick in bed – maybe that will help you write a scene about feeling stuck or of the blissful haven of feeling safe. Looking out of the window can take you to different places in the mind – the weather can provoke reactions you can work with. If external stimulation isn’t working for you then why not try visualisation? Some people find it hard. It certainly takes practice at first. If you are a visual person with good imagination as writers often are, it could be useful. As with dreams, I find my visualisations are powered by a mix of real events and crazy places that give me insight into ways of developing character or describing a scene.
Personally I’m fed by nature in its many forms, but in particular I find trees inspiring. That doesn’t necessarily mean I want to write about trees, although I have done. More than anything it means that walking among trunks, dragging my hand across bark and hearing the sound of the wind in leaves or bare branches gives me a sense of coming back to myself. The ancient woods I enjoy are located on the Kent Downs and are a mix of sweet chestnut, oak, beech and yew. I find walks in their midst nourishing whatever the weather – bright or drab. The resinous scent and carpet of needles or fallen leaves is a sensory pleasure. Returning home, I’m refreshed and better able to find the writing flow.
I’d love to know where your places are. What feeds the writer in you?