Teaching Tuesday – Finding Inspiration and Toto

With this inaugural Teaching Tuesday, I’ve decided to start at the beginning of the writing process. Namely, inspiration. We grow up reading books and watching movies in which writers must somehow find their inspiration. Often we meet them when they are struggling, their creativity blocked…and then, BOOM, they are struck by the Muse—perhaps in the form of late 70s/early 80s hottie Olivia Newton-John—which leads them to creative heights in a burst of frenetic energy. At least that’s how I once pictured it. (Perhaps I’m overly dramatic?)

But as I began to read books on the writing craft, I discovered that the source of inspiration is much less magical. That’s not to say there aren’t those magical-feeling moments when a big idea erupts in your mind (mine is usually in the shower or on my commute), but there is work we need to do to prepare our brains to have these moments of inspiration. To prime the pump, as they say.

How do we do that? With practice! (I feel like I’ve missed out on a good Carnegie Hall joke.) Some writers call it B.I.C. (butt in chair). In her book Crafting Stories for Children, Nancy Lamb calls it the 3-Ds: desire, discipline, and determination. We have to have desire, then back that up with discipline and determination.

Essentially, we need to sit at our desks (or other writing spot) every day* whether we feel like writing or not. We need to sit there when we have great ideas and we need to sit there when we can only manage to write “I suck at writing” over and over again like a slightly less crazed Jack Nicholson. By doing this every day (or nearly every day), we train our brain to produce regardless of how we’re feeling. So, we are never stuck waiting around for inspiration, or the Muses from Xanadu, to strike. We are able to write because our brains are trained to turn on the creativity as soon as we sit down to do it. This is not to say we shouldn’t use tools like idea generators or try to find inspiration in our surroundings or in nature. We should look for inspiration wherever we can find it. But to translate that inspiration into writing, to get that creativity on the page, requires B.I.C.

Now, this is all easier said than done. I’ve been guilty of letting my writing habit lapse when life got in the way. I have the desire, but I don’t always support it with discipline and determination. But I’m working on it. So, how about you? How do you structure your writing process to keep the creativity flowing? Leave a comment below!

*Not everyone agrees that we have to write every single day. I think that as long as our habits are consistent, whether we write daily, every other day, or something else, we’ll get to our inspiration.

Random Fact

I keep running into the song Africa by Toto. Not only is the original perpetually on the radio (well, it’s on my “classic rock” stations that are suddenly playing 80s music like it’s old or something…), but the recent remake by Weezer and my son’s school band concert have kept the song in my near-daily playlist. I also tried out a new podcast, Punch Up the Jam, in which the two hosts and their guest analyze a song and eventually “punch it up” with their own take on it. I happened upon the episode focusing on Toto’s Africa, so, of course, I had to listen. I only made it about halfway through (at 1 hr 33 min, it’s too long even for me to listen to rambling about what the nonsensical lyrics of this song could possibly mean), but I learned a fun fact at the beginning.

Toto was started by two studio musicians, who then recruited more musician friends to join the band. The song, as the podcast described, is such a hodgepodge of music styles and sounds…it makes perfect sense that a bunch of musicians who had played for bands like Steely Dan would want to try out all the styles when they got to play for themselves. It’s no wonder the lyrics are almost an afterthought.

To learn how Teaching Tuesday got started, check out this post.

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