I hope you’ve had a wonderful week of surprising bursts of inspiration, blissfully productive “flow states,” and of course, writer’s block victories!
I’m currently sitting in the Dallas/Fort Worth airport, sipping coffee at Au Bon Pain while listening to the high-pitched yips of an unseen, presumably very tiny dog.
I quite like ambient noise when I’m working: the ring of a distant telephone…the crunch of chip bags being handled and opened…the steady beep of cash registers…the scrape of coins being pulled from cash drawers…the soothing stream of ubiquitous chatter…which instantly becomes extremely unsoothing the second I’m able to make out specific words and phrases. (Right now, the bald bespectacled man across from me is having a heated phone conversation about how “pissed off” he is with a rabbi and a man named Larry – I’m not making this up.)
I also enjoy watching the noise makers, that is to say, the people:
The woman in a smart business suit and dangerous-looking heels stooping to examine today’s selection of cookies and pastries.
The pair of lanky, tan, teenaged tennis players perusing the shelves of pre-made grab-and-go meals, their racquets sticking out of their backpacks.
The soldier trotting confidently down the escalator in his MultiCam fatigues and combat boots.
The red-lipped flight attendant enjoying a sandwich while scrolling Facebook on her iPhone.
The elderly couple pulling small suitcases behind them as they search for a booth, bewildered as can be (they’re probably not accustomed to this much stimulation, sort of like me).
If I had a mirror, I would hold it up and see me, a shy young woman with long straight hair of various shades, sitting alone in a corner, her sparkly blue fingernails typing happily away on her laptop.
I was just about to start penning an Ernest-Hemingway-inspired post for my writer’s block series when it occurred to me that I’m experiencing a cure for writer’s block right now, right here in this café at DFW airport.
You see, there are literally dozens of stories buzzing around me. I’m surrounding by the stuff of stories: different people from different places, headed to different destinations for different reasons. (No joke, the man who was complaining about a rabbi left, and his seat has been taken by a man who, with his prominent nose, dark clothes, and bushy black beard, looks like a rabbi… See? Story material! I really want to sneak a picture!)
Novelist and poet Charles Bukowski wrote, “I like to prowl ordinary places and taste the people – from a distance.”
Belgian cartoonist Hergé wrote, “La rue est une muse pour tous!” which means, “The street is a museum for everyone!”
As artists, it’s easy to confine inspiration to, well, art! We hear about other writers traveling to exotic places and expensive conferences to fill their creative wells. There’s this romantic notion that the best ideas come from lofty and secluded mountain oases, high-energy motivational speakers whom we perceive as able to mystically draw creativity out of us, and from grand art galleries whose colors seem to pulsate with the very essence of imagination.
But creativity is only confined to the scholarly and sublime fringes of our lives if we expect it to show up only on those occasions.
The truth is, the world is aflutter with flickering sparks ready to ignite our imaginations. We just have to open our eyes and notice them, to snatch them as they float by, and hold them tenderly in the cups of our hands. After we’ve studied them a while, admired their glow, felt their invigorating heat on our skin, we’ll often find our imaginations swirling with images, emotions, snippets of dialogue…the promising pieces of a story.
The next time you feel blocked, unable to conceive a story, I encourage you to leave your house or office, wherever you typically write, and go some place unusual, perhaps a café or coffee shop, a shopping mall or park. Take your laptop or notebook with you and simply write what your senses are taking in, every scent, every sound, every image, taste, and touch. Choose a person, or a group of people, that interests you and begin to write a story about them. What do they do for a living? What are they struggling with? What are they hiding? What do you they want most this very moment?
Here’s a fun little challenge for you to tackle right now if you wish:
Using one of the people I described earlier in this post as inspiration, write a 250-word short story. When you’re done, email it to me at email@example.com and I’ll enter you in a drawing to win a copy of one of my favorite books on writing, Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott. The deadline is next Sunday, October 29th.