This is how we wrote: on low tables, on couches, on floors, on Friday afternoons. I entered into the writers’ group christened Megafauna as a college freshman. There were seven of us—a mix of students and twenty/thirty-somethings who all knew Sara, a recent college graduate that brought us together—and we went in without expectation. Then we learned everyone’s living room, watched the contours of sun and shadow change in different seasons, and did so almost every week at 4 o’clock over four years.
By the time the meetings dwindled, we had hosted dozens of readings, made some bomb ‘zines, sat with each other through a hundred afternoons where we wrote to music or to first lines of poems, drank tea, traded books. Some of us graduated college and some of us got married or had babies for the first time and some of us moved away. But the act of writing and reading together rather than doing so alone, taking time to mull over the shapes and sounds of words and the endless number of ways they could fit around each other became, for a long time, necessary.
And it is still necessary. This week I went to a writer’s group for the first time since Megafauna split two years ago. I am not saying writers’ groups can be replaced—because each one is specific to its own time and people and needs—but I went to a stranger’s house and sat on their couch. We ate snacks and read each other’s words into the quiet as the day was going down. Someone read a poem out loud. I had not written for weeks. But by the end of the night, I felt like I had remembered something forgotten.
I thought of a random afternoon with Megafauna that has stuck with me for so long, for no reason. I remembered sitting in Sara’s downtown loft in the winter with burned popcorn, the smell of it filling the apartment. We were in the middle of a free write and I was suddenly aware of the light pouring into the room and these people who had become great friends around me scribbling intently into their notebooks—that rare moment of appreciating what is happening in one moment, the realization of life as it is, the finiteness of it. I thought: I am here right now and I always want to remember this feeling because it will not continue forever.
Writing is a solitary act much of the time. Artsy people have different methods of doing their work. The problem is that there are often distractions like to-do lists or the Internet or someone who wants to go a bar, which sounds better than staring at the wall with a piece that isn’t moving. To meet, however infrequently, with other people who also sit in their rooms fending off distractions and try to tackle the blank spaces—people who feel the same light in their bones when they hear a certain sentence, people who understand what you are trying to make of this life and can support you and tell you what works, what doesn’t—reminds me that art is never made totally alone.
To that end, I was curious what keeps other people going. I asked some writer friends to share what inspires them, what works for them. In the spirit of communities, here is what they had to say:
- Find ways to be creative as often as possible, even if it’s not writing. I don’t always have the time or the discipline to write every day, but I almost always read or paint or experience something new or knit or draw or even color. Those activities soothe my inner artist and help inspire writing when I do actually sit down and practice.
- A lot of my inspiration and motivation comes from interacting with and seeing other poets—seeing them live or reading their books or watching them on YouTube (Button Poetry is the best channel for that). I also go to a weekly poetry workshop…Surrounding myself with a community of writers is the most prominent way I stay motivated to keep writing.
- Coffee (!) and working at a desk or table that faces a window.
- Usually inspiration comes from somewhere outside of myself so I find I have more ideas + more energy for creating after being in quiet, creative spaces like bookstores, museums, libraries, and coffee shops and/or after being around other creative people. After going to Creative Mornings a few weeks ago, I wrote a poem on the bus ride to work. Just listening to someone talk about their creative work made me more motivated to express myself and MAKE.
- I try to write 1-2 free writes a week and then work on them throughout the week until I send it to someone else. After getting feedback, I read it at an open mic and bring it to my workshop to get more feedback. Then I usually leave it alone for at least month.
- The poem “What the Wing Says” by David Swanger always fuels me to make poems: “I will speak more plainly: you think you are/ the middle of your life, your own fulcrum, / your years poised like reckonings in the balance. / This is not so: dismiss the grocer of your soul. /Nothing important can be weighed…” The poem is an offering, an invitation into the everyday, the rough stone of the now. It dares me to probe from each ventricle the magic, the truth, the insane and the holy. An ordeal which is dangerous and thrilling. (And the whole fun of writing, after all, is the risk and the thrill.)
- “Syllabus” by Lynda Barry has reminded me of the role of creative journaling and capturing thoughts that may feel disjointed but are still tendrils of the creative muse.
- I try to stay updated on political events and those work their way into my writing in some way. I think important writing is a reflection of the time, so staying informed makes easier to accomplish that.
- BrainPickings has a neat series on the daily routines of writers. It’s inspired me to try to schedule a free day around creative space instead of all my to-do’s and emails and adult obligations.
- It comes down to variation for me. I get tired of working with people with similar mindsets and ideas, so recently I just made connections on the science side of [grad school] and have been creating a show with them instead of with theatre people. I get creatively charged when I bring two very different things together. For that, I find a diverse group of people, take an interest in their work, and just listen to them get passionate about whatever they’re passionate about.
- tUnE-yArDs all day long.
- And much more practically, deadlines!
- For me, the most important thing is to have an audience for what I’m doing, to know there will be eyes on this soon, whether it’s where I want it to be or not. That really motivates me to keep plugging along, to invest my energy into it so that others can experience it at its best. Just having someone to read through it, whether it be a friend or family member, can provide a lot of motivation.
- Other authors: The War of Art by Steven Pressfield & Dominique Christina’s This is Woman’s Work
- What keeps me going are my previous selves that kept trying to write regularly until having kids finally made it stick. I write early before they get up now. (I”m not alone in this: Patti Smith, Margaret Atwood: a lot of women writers say it was kids that make them take their own writing seriously finally.)
- I try to do something creative every day, even for just a half hour, whether it be writing, music, or art. Also, what helps me is to avoid the internet. The less time I spend on the internet, the more creative I am…so obviously I’m not very creative right now.