From the San Francisco Chronicle, October 20, 2012:
“Eight days after two…men were reported missing in Oregon—13 days after the truck they were traveling in was found deserted and burned—authorities found two male bodies at an abandoned ranch outside the small town of…”
What writer could read this and not picture the half-burned truck; the abandoned ranch, its fences falling down, its rusted sign half off its hinges, deep ruts in the road leading to the ranch house…
I sometimes feel like a voyeur, because so much of what I see or hear is fodder for my fiction. I have folders of notes containing lines of conversation I overheard, or a description of an encounter I witnessed. I save articles snipped out of the newspaper, like the one quoted above that piqued my interest. Ideas are everywhere around me. Sometimes I use them right away in whatever I’m working on, and sometimes I stash them away for future use. I often feel saturated by all the possibilities.
But occasionally I run into a creative slump. My brain feels sluggish, my writing uninspired. All those ideas that seemed so interesting at the time fall flat. That’s when I turn to other art forms for inspiration.
A visit to an art museum and re-energize me. There’s a particular painting at the DeYoung Museum by Elmer Bischoff that always intrigues me. Something about the way the two people in the painting (I almost wrote “characters” in the painting) are juxtaposed with each other grabs me. The direction they are looking, the way they are dressed, the light in the painting, and the buildings in the background. All of this starts my creative juices. Questions pop up like, what are they thinking? What just happened between them? What kind of problem has life handed them?
I can also be inspired by music. There’s hardly any music I don’t enjoy listening to, and each one can spark a different kind of creative vision that gets me reengaged with writing.
Although what I see or hear is the end product, I know that what visual and musical artists go through is the same thing a writer experiences. In visual art an idea germinates, dabs of product get applied to paper, canvas, clay, etc., then more gets added, until it’s time to shape the piece.
The same is true of music. I recently attended a piano jazz concert in which the pianist performed several of his own pieces. I wondered how it would feel to have whole pieces of music spring into my head. But I realized that’s probably not how it happens at all. It’s probably not so different from writing or painting. I imagined the composer hearing a riff in his head and jotting down the notes, adding to it later, and then again until he has a baggy shape, and then beginning the hard work of editing until it’s a whole piece of music.
I’m inspired by the world around me, but when that fails, I turn to other art forms. What inspires your creativity?