By Wendy Tyson
It was cold the morning I wrote this. Three degrees according to the deck thermometer. Of course, in Vermont there is a saying (to be fair I think it’s a saying everywhere winters are cruel) that there’s no such thing as bad weather, only bad clothes. Nevertheless, I eyed our snowshoes with suspicion. I’d rather be writing by the fire than traipsing out in the woods, but traipsing we would go. Hopefully by then it would be closer to ten.
We’d promised my fourteen-year-olds and one very large Labrador we’d go hiking. The forest can be a magical place, and watching the twins get lost with their canine companion in the white-coated outdoors reminds me that they’re caught between childhood and manhood. For them, Inspiration exists in the icy inclines, snow-covered clearings, and giant, uprooted trees. For a while they can forget the pressures of high school and pretend—or just be.
While I cherish the family time, I also needed to get out of my head. After several tight deadlines and three rounds of work travel, I was feeling fried. It’s one thing to be productive on a tight schedule, but it’s another thing to court Inspiration. With a blank page in front of me—Greenhouse Mystery #5—I needed the thrill of Inspiration, not the pride of accomplishment.
I’m often asked where I find my Inspiration. The truth is, I don’t always know. I can’t tell you the exact moment when the universe comes together and an idea begins to take shape. I can only tell you that Inspiration isn’t something I wait for—I have to court it. And I have to be able to recognize it when it appears. Like my boys in the woods, it helps if I nurture my imagination, allowing myself to dig deep into its recesses, into that untamed part of my consciousness that will spot a great concept and develop it into something bigger. I have to be willing to go out into the wild.
The process is different for everyone, but here are a few techniques I’ve found helpful for finding and capturing Inspiration.
- Connect with the page. I mean that quite literally. There is something visceral and real about writing the old-fashioned way, using pen and paper. When I want to connect with what author Natalie Goldberg calls “wild mind,” I pull out a notebook and a favorite pen and free write. There are no rules in free writing. I don’t think about grammar, spelling or themes. I don’t care if what I write makes sense. The idea is to dig deeper, find something that will resonate and possibly lead to a story. This almost always works for me—and I use it when I am stuck on a novel as well.
- Silence the critic, court the muse. I don’t know about yours, but my inner critic is quietly insidious, almost diabolical. She whispers mean little sound bites into my ear, pouring vinegar into every sensitive open writing wound I have. When I want to find Inspiration, I have to shut her up, allowing her more timid sister to visit instead. Free writing helps with that, and writing early in the morning, before my inner critic is fully awake, helps too. I find that Vivaldi lulls the critic into silence, and a change of scenery can mask her voice (a bustling coffee shop or a busy ski lodge, perhaps). Sometimes it’s pure will that puts my critic in her place. “You’ll have your time when I’m revising,” I tell her. Occasionally she even listens.
- Hit the road. I love to travel. Not the highly scheduled travel I do for work, but the kind of off-the-beaten-path travel that invites reflection. I find leaving my comfort zone, even for a little while, offers a change of perspective and new ideas. Some of my best concepts have come to me while on a train or driving along an unfamiliar stretch of foreign roadway.
- Go outside. Leave your cerebral nest, don a jacket and sneakers (or in my case this morning, four layers of long underwear and down alternative), and enjoy Mother Nature. I’m convinced that Inspiration lives in the woods and at the beach, in the snow-covered rocks, under the icy river water, on the rough sand and in the fallen trees. When you need to find her, get out of your head for a while and play, unapologetically. Remember what it’s like to be a kid. You might be surprised—Inspiration just may come to you.
Wendy Tyson is a writer, lawyer, and former therapist whose background has inspired her mysteries and thrillers. Wendy writes two mystery series, the bestselling Greenhouse Mystery Series and the popular Allison Campbell Mystery Series. Wendy’s short stories have appeared in literary journals, and she has short fiction in two anthologies, Betrayed and the forthcoming The Night of the Flood. Wendy is a member of Sisters in Crime, Penn Writers, and International Thriller Writers, and she’s a contributing editor and columnist for International Thriller Writers’ online magazines, The Big Thrill and The Thrill Begins. Wendy and her family live in Vermont.