Five Ways I Feed the Muse

  If you’re going to make stuff like books, paintings, dances, or sculptures, you have to experience stuff. You have to feed the Muse, so to speak. I believe that I don’t get writer’s block because I’m constantly looking for things to inspire me or my work. I thought it would be interesting to talk about what I do on a regular basis to keep the pitcher full.

1. Reading This one’s kind of a gimme, since I write. If you’re going to write, you have to read. I read in the genres I write in so I can see what’s been done already. Reading things that are done well are aspirational and reading things done poorly gives me hope (I’m like, “Hey, I can do this. And I can do it better!”) I’m in a book club that reads mostly literary fiction and mainstream nonfiction. For my own reading, I rotate between YA fantasy, adult urban fantasy or science fiction, and nonfiction about either creativity or, in recent times, parenting.

2. Podcasts I have a commute of at least a half hour in the morning and upwards of 45 minutes to an hour in the afternoon, so I listen to podcasts. I learn SO much and I am so entertained by these people. There’s a core group and I’m always checking out others. Here’s the core membership (all available on iTunes):

SNAP Judgement: Stories! I like to listen to how they put the stories together.

I Should Be Writing: EXCELLENT resources for aspiring writers. I can’t recommend this one enough.

Writing Excuses: See above.

This American Life: NPR junkies unite!

Freakonomics: I didn’t think this would have much for me, but I consistently go back to it so something good is happening, I think.

Radio Lab: Weirder than This American Life and more science-y, too.

Nerdist: Host Chris Hardwick interviews comedians, actors, writers, creators – and I get a lot of encouragement about continuing to just MAKE STUFF, even if I feel like nobody’s listening.

Improv Resource Center with Kevin Mullaney: See my next item.

The Moth: True stories told live – I’ve done local story slams myself and I love this one.

3. Improv I started performing with a local improv group about five years ago. I took a year off after the boys were born, and I’m back again. I’ve mentioned how helpful improv had been before here on the blog. In fact, my co-improv-cast-member and semi-famous published author Patrick Wensink teaches a whole class on this. I have found it easier to just write some words and work with them, rather than fret over every letter. Improv has taught me to just say “Yes, and…” see what happens.

4. Research I LOVE Wikipedia. LOVE. IT. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve fallen down the Wikipedia rabbit hole and discovered dozens of things to improve a story, or ideas about a new story, or weird stuff that just happens to fit into the story I’m writing. Some writers say they just put a place holder in the text as they write, so that they don’t get distracted by research. Like they’ll say “LOOK UP THE BATTLE OF HASTINGS” then wait until they’re done writing to do research. I say, let the distractions come because sometimes it leads you to the best place.

5. History channel My DVR is full of stuff I recorded about a manuscript I have been working on. But it doesn’t have to be something that you think you’ll use. Just record stuff you think sounds interesting.

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