Lyndsey Garrett discusses inspiration, themed writing and deadlines

 

Being hit by inspiration is a fantastic, occasionally frightening, experience. There’s an unreality to it: an idea rising from nothing for which anything could be possible, with so many avenues to explore. Such moments become a haze of manic creativity; feverishly writing down every thought even if it is just one word on a scrap of post-it. As adrenaline-heavy as these moments are, they aren’t sustainable. Inspiration has to be nurtured from that high intensity into a creative mindset that flows.

Inspiration is also fickle, refusing to stick to a regular timetable. When other things are occupying your time, it suddenly rears up: an explosive creative burst that demands to be noted down lest it be forgotten within the next few minutes. Then there are the times when you’ve set the scene — you’ve settled yourself just so, ready for inspiration to call. Except the muse has taken off for the evening. Like the heatwave this summer, we stand waiting for that first drop of rain, the first strike of lightning to break the oppressive weight of our creative dry spell.

Holding out for that initial hit can prove a long and unfulfilling process. Too many factors have an influence on whether or not we feel inspired or inspired to act. Writing, one of the greatest pleasures, can also be a time of crippling self-doubt and feelings of inferiority. These views can be exacerbated when we are uninspired, getting further bogged down in our own creative lull.

For a long time, I wouldn’t write anything until I had an idea that met a very precise, and arbitrary, set of conditions. The idea had to be perfect from that first moment. Setting the standard so high meant that I didn’t feel like I was failing at writing — I wasn’t writing because I hadn’t had a moment of inspiration or, more precisely, the right inspiration. In many ways, inspiration became the excuse for not pushing myself further. If I didn’t try, then I couldn’t fail. Not a productive approach, and one that always left me feeling worse about my capabilities as a writer.

So, what to do when inspiration doesn’t strike? There are many actions we can follow to trigger our creative thought processes, or just to make a start on writing. A quick Google search for ‘writing prompt’ reels off hundreds of pages of results, from opening sentences to setting descriptions and photographs. We can use these as a starting point to begin writing, see where the narrative takes us even if we don’t experience a flash of creative insight. It’s surprising what we can conjure from just a line or two of prompt, or photographs of a discarded shoe or set of keys.

Themed writing, a parallel to more traditional writing prompts, is a tactic sometimes employed by literary journals and writing magazines where a specific theme is proposed for submissions. Mslexia, a women writers’ magazine, regularly sends out such requests, and have offered themes such as magic, weather, and cooking for their open submissions segment. The independent publisher 404Ink, has released four themed journals in the last two years; error, the ‘f’ word, power, and ink. Themes give an initial seed for the brain to work on, but your mind can run in whichever direction it wants to. In many ways, a theme provides a looser frame for a writer, with all the advantages and disadvantages that freedom entails.

For me, themed writing is an interesting experiment. There are themes I’m more drawn to; one look at my bookshelves shows a distinct leaning (and bowing of shelves) to science fiction and fantasy. While any theme could be told from a science fiction or fantasy angle, I’ve tried to use it to explore writing outside of those genres; to use it as an exercise to expand my own writing. I’ve had mixed results: some first drafts look promising and others may as well be consigned to the darkest corner I can find to bury them in. But even those won’t be thrown away, they’re still part of this journey to write.

Sometimes there are time constraints which don’t give us the option to wait for inspiration. On a Creative Writing BA, I’ve had to get used to deadlines pretty quickly. Even if those deadlines start off months away they never stay distant for long. Beyond work, school, or university deadlines, there are deadlines in writing competitions or open submissions. Deadlines remove the luxury of time; you can’t spend months or years working a piece towards something resembling ‘good enough’ when it needs to be submitted next week.

Writing to a deadline forces you to spend your time wisely. I still procrastinate. My place never looks cleaner or more organised than when I’ve an assignment looming. But I’ve come to accept that an element of procrastination is part of the process and factor that in to my schedule. It’s like a purging; clearing everything else so that the mind, and the physical space, is ready for creating and editing.

Because of this tightness in time, I’ve learnt to be kinder to myself in first drafts; there simply isn’t time to worry over those initial ideas if I want to get to an end point. It’s still a hard journey, writing things that in your heart you know are going to be edited out, but for now they get you from start to finish. Coming up with an idea on a deadline is a challenge I’m still working on. Sometimes, it’s taking anything that might do and pushing it to its extremes to see just what could come of it. Everything can be adjusted in editing. Some of those edits have to be ruthless, as an idea has failed to take hold on the first run, but the editing process can kick start a fresh take on the idea or redirect it to something more compelling.

Inspiration can come in many forms and can hit us by a variety of methods. We should never dismiss the importance of those dizzying moments where inspiration strikes, but neither should we forget that there are ways to trigger those moments for ourselves. To kick start the creative process is simply allowing ourselves the chance to try, fail and try again.


profile-pic
Lyndsey Garrett lives in London. She took a bit of a wrong turn after school and ended up as an accountant for the next several years. As a current Creative Writing BA student at Birkbeck University she’s now working hard to remedy that! Lyndsey was a Notable Contender in the 2017 Bristol Prize. She is a member of the Secret Garden Writing Club and co-manages the MIROnline Blog.
December 7, 2018

Waiting to be inspired

Lyndsey Garrett discusses inspiration, themed writing and deadlines
December 5, 2018

Podcast: Lou Kramskoy discusses her MIR15 story

In the second episode of the MIR Podcast, MIR 15 editor Amy St Johnston talks to author Lou Kramskoy about her short story “The Front Line.” They discuss ways of writing anxiety, the struggle of choosing a good title, and the importance of reading your work aloud. Lou also gives us her short […]
December 3, 2018

Sister Sarya at The End of The World by Gerard McKeown

Short Fiction by Gerard McKeown
November 30, 2018

Gog, Magog, Gogam, Gog by James Machin

Short Fiction by James Machin
November 28, 2018

Poetry by E.A.M. Harris

  Courtesy of Doors and Meetings Not Planned
November 26, 2018

The Heights of Sleep by Sam Thompson

Short Fiction by Sam Thompson
November 23, 2018

Walking Circles by Lily Dunn

Creative Non-Fiction by Lily Dunn
November 20, 2018

Sandra Brown-Springer talks about her debut play

Sandra Brown-Springer’s debut play Seb’s Soles was shortlisted for the Nick Darke Award for Playwriting, 2018. Sandra, who studies MA Creative Writing at Birkbeck, talks to Aisha Phoenix about the gentrification in Brixton that inspired the play, disruptive poetry and tokenism in the literary world.
November 20, 2018

Martin Nathan Discusses Writing about landscape

Martin Nathan looks at the use of online tools to construct landscapes in fiction
November 19, 2018

Road Liable to Flooding by Andrew Oldham

Short Fiction by Andrew Oldham
November 14, 2018

Rebecca Rouillard on winning Mslexia’s Novel Competition

Katie Baldock spoke to Rebecca Rouillard about writing after winning Mslexia’s 2017 Novel Competition.
November 12, 2018

Foaming Grasses by Nick Owen

Short Fiction by Nick Owen
November 9, 2018

Podcast: Arhondia discusses her MIR15 story

In the first episode of the MIR Podcast, MIR 15 editor Lauren Miller talks to author Arhondia about her short story “Tom Corridan.” They discuss the influence of music on her writing, the power of drawing on real experience in prose, and how to develop convincing dialogue. Arhondia also gives her short story recommendation. […]
November 5, 2018

Pathogen by Graeme K Talboys

Short Fiction by  Graeme K Talboys
October 29, 2018

Quantum of Love by Gilli Fryzer

Short Fiction by  Gilli Fryzer
October 22, 2018

The Trial of Shelton Mathis by Wes Brown

Short Fiction by  Wes Brown
October 19, 2018

Meeting Myself Again

Arhondia writes about her experience of being an artist and a new mother
October 15, 2018

Reconciliation by Ben O’Hara

Short Fiction by Ben O’Hara
October 12, 2018

The Lobster Boat by Tamar Hodes

Short fiction by Tamar Hodes
October 10, 2018

Poetry by Anthony Caleshu

  I AM THIRSTY and because I am thirsty I need to drink before I can continue blowing your mind. The knowledge you once had about your own imagination required an alarm system with a direct line to the police. The peach you’re eating is so sweet, no wonder it’s […]