Life Feeds Your Words

Editor’s Note: This is a guest post from Michelle DeRusha, a Massachusetts native who moved to Nebraska in 2001. You can connect with her on her websiteFacebook, and Twitter.

The day my agent suggested I concentrate on three areas — writing, building a platform and strengthening my social media presence — I hung up the phone, determined.

Sunflower photo
Photo Credit: Hamed Saber via Compfight cc

That was the day I stripped what I considered all extraneous activity from my life:

  • I resigned from my book club.
  • I stopped running.
  • I told friends I was too busy to meet for margaritas.

The garden withered. The stack of paperbacks on my nightstand sat untouched beneath a layer of dust.

My relentless focus on writing, social media, and platform-building produced results. I finished writing one book and started another, launched a newspaper column, published five blog posts a week and grew my Twitter following. Google Analytics tracked a slow but steady increase in visitors to my blog.

I was pleased — until, that is, I suddenly had nothing to say.

Fingers poised over the keyboard, I stared at the blank screen, not just for an hour or a day, but for more than two weeks, panicked. I simply had nothing to write about.

The problem? I’d stopped living. And living feeds writing.

When he was writing Love in the Time of Cholera, Gabriel Garcia Marquez would awaken at 6 a.m., read for two hours and then write for five hours.

Marquez spent the afternoon at the beach with his wife and friends, and after sundown, he walked the city streets, talking to strangers and meeting with friends. The next morning he’d weave bits of those conversations and experiences into his writing.

We can learn a lot from Marquez’s routine. Sure, he spent a lot of time writing, but he also spent at least an equal amount of time living. Similarly, what I learned the hard way during my creative drought was this:

Living feeds writing… not the other way around. [Tweet that]

Here are a few easy strategies that have helped to fuel my creativity:

Exercise

It’s the first activity on the chopping block when I’m busy, yet exercise is the activity most likely to produce good ideas, usually when I least expect it. Often I’ll dash into the house after a jog, grab a scrap of paper and, still sweating, start scrawling.

Socialize

I try not to clear my entire social calendar, even when I’m on deadline. Margins are good when you’re a writer, but living like a monk with no human contact is not. Conversation fuels creativity.

Use Your Hands

I dedicate an hour or so each week to taking photographs, usually in my own backyard or neighborhood. I also like to weed the garden and paint walls and trim in my house. Focusing on a creative project or even a repetitive task helps to loosen the brain tangles and opens my mind to new ideas.

Step Out of the Box

Occasionally, I try a new “artistic” experience. A few weeks ago I attended a symphony concert for the first time in my life. I jotted notes on the back of the program during the performance and later wrote a newspaper column about it.

I’m not typically a classical music fan, but something about witnessing the energy and enthusiasm of the conductor and the musicians prompted a burst of inspiration.

The fact is, most of us probably don’t have the leisure to spend every afternoon lounging at the beach and every evening out on the town like Marquez.

But we can use simple, everyday experiences to feed our lives… and ultimately, our words.

Question: What tactics do you use to get your creative energy flowing again? Share in the comments.

Michelle DeRusha is a Massachusetts native who moved to Nebraska in 2001. You can connect with her on her websiteFacebook, and Twitter.

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