Writers in the Storm

A blog about writing

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April 13, 2022

Eight Ways to Stay Open to Story

by Monica Corwin

Inspiration starts in the brain. I’ll save the health and wellness lecture for another time, but please make a note that your diet, exercise, and sleep all affect your brain’s neuroplasticity, allowing for what I like to call free-range inspiration.

Have you ever experienced one of those moments where you are watching or doing something and suddenly THE LIGHTBULB flashes and you have an idea in your brain? It might be a tiny little nugget of an idea that needs fostering. It also might be a fully-fledged idea, with shoots and roots ready to grow.

Inspiration can strike at any time. A moment between mowing your lawn or driving to work. The key is staying open and ready for whenever the muse pops in.

8 Tips To Keep Yourself Open for New Ideas

1. Do something relaxing, mundane, or repetitive.

These situations allow for your body and brain to relax. This, in turn, can give your brain some dopamine, allowing for ideas to flow in. Finally, relaxation can also facilitate the idea train, keeping you from blocking inspirational thoughts with worries or fears. It’s exactly why you get ideas in the shower and why waterproof shower notebooks are a thing that exists.

2. Go Outside.

There’s a reason many authors of old spend hours out in the countryside, or on beaches, walking. It’s why many of them retreated to the country, or their forest cabins, to complete their novels.

The outdoors helps inspiration in many ways. First, it can offer new views and experiences to allow new neural pathways. These pathways can help ideas flow. Like the first tip, nature can also relax you, and let ideas come in when they will, and not be hampered by Jeff from accounting breathing down your neck.

3. Create outside of your art.

This might sound strange, but humans are creative creatures. If you create art that isn’t your usual medium, you can often find yourself able to relax easier, and you can layer inspiration traps into these arts and crafts to double down on this tip.

The second medium you choose should be for fun. Something that you don’t have to monetize, therefore, doesn’t bear the same pressure as your original medium. For example, I write books for a living. When I need to relax, I do zentangles or cross stitch. I use colors that entrance me to help boost my mood and help me stay inspired and ready to sit down at the computer again.

4. Create routine, but also mix it up.

This might sound like I’m contradicting myself, but both methods can supercharge your creativity. This tip is all about what works for you, but don’t be afraid to do both. Routines are a great way to build in that relaxed state you’ll seek but mixing it up can also create new neural pathways and strengthen neuroplasticity. Do what works best for you, maybe keep a journal to track how you are feeling about either path.

5. Spend time with other creatives.

This is a two-fold path. If you spend time with other creatives, people successfully doing what you want to be doing, it can sting, but it can also inspire you to charge forward and try to reach your goals harder. Being around other creatives, talking about your art, sharing your art, can also supercharge your inspiration and send you home longing to dive into your work.

6. Keep your brain open.

Life is hard right now. So very hard for so many people. Use tried and true methods to stay above stress and keep your mind free from clutter.

Journaling is an amazing, and well-documented way, to help clear the stuff from your mind and allow those free-range inspirational thoughts to wander in. Journaling can’t pay your car payment, nor will it help you figure out your sister’s medical care, but it can help you get those thoughts that are weighing you down out of your head for a little while.

7. Be a collector.

Shhhh…don’t tell Marie Kondo. Collect things that inspire you.

I put things on the wall around my computer monitor. Stuff like quotes, postcards, pictures, fabrics, colors, textures. Don’t be afraid to branch outside your medium. Colors and textures can be an inspiration for a character’s dress, or the exact fabric of your villain’s suit. Gather those rocks that look cool, or the sea glass you found by the river.

Save what makes you wonder, ask questions, or leaves you in awe.

8. Be a good listener.

A lot of the writers I know are wonderful listeners. You can use this skill in a couple of ways to gather that free-range inspiration. Eavesdropping is the most common way I see my fellow writers employing this method. It can also be beneficial to meet new people, talk about things with them, and more importantly, listen to their stories.

Inspiration, or rather lack thereof, can be debilitating for a writer. Use these tips to ensure you are ready for the muse to swoop in and save your story. Also, carry a notebook, or use your phone notes, because there’s nothing worse than missing a call from the muse because she doesn’t leave voicemails.

What helps you tap into your muse or find creative inspiration? Are there experiences or places you've found particularly helpful? Please share them with us down in the comments! (And help us welcome Monica!)

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About Monica

Monica Corwin is a New York Times and USA Today bestselling author. She always tells her dog when she’s leaving, and she apologizes to inanimate objects when she bumps into them. If you like your heroes broody, then check out her "classically sexy" romance novels at www.monicacorwin.com.

20 comments on “Eight Ways to Stay Open to Story”

  1. On being a good listener: I read an anecdote by a person who was an avid fan of novelist John D. MacDonald and intensely interested in what kind of person he was. One day, on a long airline flight, he found himself sitting next to the author. He was thrilled and told MacDonald how much he loved his work. He related afterward that MacDonald was very friendly and down-to-earth, and they talked for the duration of the flight, but he realized after he reached his destination and got off the plane that MacDonald had kept the conversation about his seatmate the entire time and had said very little about himself. He was frustrated, but reflected that this was probably part of how MacDonald collected the personal, regional, and professional details to create unique and well-developed characters and settings.

  2. I just got back from Left Coast Crime in Albuquerque. There's so much energy and everyone was so excited to have live people to talk to instead of squares on a computer screen.

  3. I returned from the Galapagos Islands yesterday. That place is forever etched in a special space in my head. I am beginning to align my life with that of the iguanas, crabs, penguins, blue footed boobies and magnificent frigates. Darwin’s theory of evolution is of personal significance to me.

  4. Oooh, thank you for giving me permission to have collections of things! This messy desk writer needed that. lol But seriously, this is so important and so difficult to do under stresses like a pandemic. Thanks for a post of good ideas and reminders.

  5. great tips and reminders that what I already do is helpful! Specifically, getting outside, and eavesdropping. Sooo many good short story ideas get in my head by catching snippets of this and that.

  6. I sit in a chair with one of my cats and listen to them purr while petting their soft fur. This often sends me into a dream zone where I daydream about ideas or a scene I need to revise. Animal therapy is awesome!

  7. I clear my mind with gardening, knitting, and boxing. I also get a ton of story connections when I take time to watch movies. And yes, ALL the best ideas happen in the shower. I think we should trade around URLs for the best shower notebooks!

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