Better Writing: Fuel your fascinations & inspiring authors

In my Creative Practice course, one of the exercises I give to writers is to write down their fascinations, what they are absolutely interested in, the things they love and the things they despise. Many of these powerful obsessions, interests, pursuits can become the basis of energetic writing. By starting with the times, places, artefacts or people who really grip you, you are providing the fuel that can produce many short stories (looking through the prism of your fascinations from various angles) or longer works such as novels which, like rockets trying to get all the way to Mars, need massive amounts of fuel.

As well as taking the time to explore your own fascinations and why you even want to write at all (a subject I’ll come back to in my next few posts) listening to other writers describe the background of their books, and the source of their literary energy can also help you clarify your interests and see where the material of your works might lie.

Very recently I was reminded about my own fascination in social psychology and the power of the media through watching an old documentary by writer Don De Lillo. The examples and associations that had formed the basis of many of his works reminded me of my own excitement at making such connections. What was also really interesting was to see how some of his works had started with a single idea or association- a photograph he stuck on his wall, not really knowing how it could develop into something more. Subsequently he made links with other material and began an exploration in writing of these ideas, eventually producing the novel Libra.

This same video obviously struck a chord with writer Daniel Carpenter. I spotted a great post by Daniel yesterday where he links not only to the De Lillo documentary but to several other author videos that he’s found informative and inspiring. Take the time to watch some of these and I’m sure it will fire up your enthusiasm for the art of writing and perhaps help you clarify what you find fascinating to write about.

To Daniel’s great line up I’ll simply add my very favourite inspirational author video – one from Ray Bradbury, a man of great humour and artistic energy. I’d love if you have any further suggestions of inspirational and energising documentaries you have seen by your favourite authors. Please let us know of them in the comments.

My Head Above Water facebook page or @HAWwriters on Twitter are the repository of many links to articles I’ve found that help support creativity in busy lives. Browse for more inspiration!

31 Days: Inspiration and Daily Practice

This series of articles running through January will explore ways of keeping our head above water in physical, mental, emotional and creative areas. There will be creative challenges, competitions and giveaways. For the full background see here. To receive all the 31 posts, sign up for email notification on the sidebar. On twitter it’s at @31HAW or @alisonwells. Hashtag  #31haw and #headabovewater.

Not succeed but sustain

With these posts over 31 days I’m not looking at how we can magically ‘succeed’, I’m looking how we can get through our daily challenges in ways that are sustainable and can sustain us.

We all resolve to do things better, to be healthier, to organise ourselves, to be more productive but if you’re anything like me your good intentions will fade or get lost amidst the chaos that is life. I’ll look next week at goals and how both small goals and gigantic goals can work but let’s be realistic, life gets confusing and things happen so we n eed to build in flexibility so we don’t get discouraged and I’ll talk about that in next weeks post.

Daily practices I’ve undertaken this year

I’ve pledged to write 31 posts on wellbeing and resilience. It’s quite an undertaking and occasionally I wonder, what on earth I was thinking. But I want to make sure that it’s achieveable and if I need to make it easier on myself by taking shortcuts or getting help I can do that too.

I’ve undertaken to get up early to write each day but there’s a get out clause (only if I’m enjoying it and it doesn’t make me too tired to meet the challenges of family life.

I’m also walking regularly and working up to 20 mins each day on the kids trampoline in tiny increments (7 mins yesteday).

Many people follow the daily practice of the small stones, focused, mindful tiny stories or observances of nature or life and I’ve done that in previous January’s. Mindfullness is a fantastic way of calming our restless thoughts and anxieties and I’ll mention it again later in the month.

What I’m thinking is that the activities that we think of committing to at this time of year are those that will make us feel better either mentally, physically, emotionally, financially etc. They need to feed us, uplift us and be fun. If it’s a drudge, it’s not going to last.

So inspirational

I want to share with you today a link to the most inspirational talk that I listened to in 2012 – it’s a talk to young writers by author Ray Bradbury, one of my favourite authors who sadly passed away late last year. It’s about an hour long and well worth a listen and I post it on a Sunday because you might just have the time to sit and take it in.

In this recording he talks about how he got published, how he started out purely by writing the things he was interested in and wanted to write. They were stories when publishers generally wanted longer work but they worked together and the stories were collectively published as The Martian Chronicles. He talks about joy and enjoying writing, the energy as he discusses his own writing is evident.

Read a short story and an article of interest each day

In terms of daily practice Ray Bradbury gives the best advice out there. He tells writers to read a short story every day and to read an article of some kind that will feed their knowledge and curiosity. I love short stories and the complete satisfaction there is within one story, the (often) poetry and humanity. Reading articles on others lives, science, history, film, whatever immediate sends out sparks of interest, snippets that lie in your mind till later when they come out newly minted and dipped in the precious metal of your own interests.

Some of the sites I’ve found particularly inspiring in the past year have been Brainpickings (philosophy, history etc), IO9 (future science) and the site Letters of Note that finds fascinating letters of all kinds of human and world stories. I’ve been inspired so often by these sites and many story ideas have emerged from reading them.

Whatever you set out to do this year let it be something that is possible and that gives you energy and inspiration, not guilt and negativity.


What daily practices do you hope to follow this year? Can you link us to any sites that you find inspiring?

(UPDATE, this is an old post so competition no longer valid!)

Flash fiction Creative Comp

Don’t forget the 31/131 word creative challenge. Winners will be chosen later today. Please comment on your favourite entries. Thank you!

#FridayFlash Further chronicles of Mars (in tribute to Ray Bradbury)

In tribute to Ray Bradbury

In the long years of silence he waited, not knowing he waited. Ears that had been turned to him closed, the dust lifted and fell. He looked through the clearing for signs. He saw nothing, heard nothing without knowing he wanted to see, or hear. But his hands sought the gravel instinctively as he stood, sentry to the silence, to the stillness, to the waiting. He dug, unearthed.

There is a special kind of loneliness that might trigger a metal tear. There became a feeling in him, his long arm, his fingers, digging. There was a sound, Soi, Soi, another sound, Spi, Spi. His fingers in the soil as red as blood tingled. Fingers.

Followed then, a sense of what was old and over. Echoes. Flash memoryDeletion…Rebooting.

Sleepy Hollow. Yes. Humphrey Rock. Bonneville Crater.

Dust devils, this whirlwind of fire sand. Soi, Soi, Spi, Spi, Sil, Sil.

His fingers leapt. Sicila, they said, hot springs, fumeroles, microbial life. Life.

Precipitated then, a sense of what was possible and probable. Opportunity. Opportunity.

It was the judder and tug he needed, he opened his eyes, looked with his long metal eye. Spirit. I am Spirit.

In the long years, all the orbits, the moons of Phobos and Deimos, spinning.

In the long years of silence. Not knowing but now knowing, sentient, conscious. He remembered. Sol, Sol, Soil, his name, Spirit, his lost companion, Opportunity. Mars explorers.

For the last time he waited for the Transit of Earth, that tiny marble tracing across the sun. If there could be a metal tear… He had been stranded in the loose soil, in the red dust and they prayed for him, there was a memorial. He did not know that but their love had been evident, he felt their efforts, reaching out.  He watched the marble cross the sun and disappear. He might live forever, he might see it again.

First he travelled Olympus Mons, named for the home of the old  gods. Down he went into the caves named by the Earth men for their loved ones. The final ray of the sun through the gathering dust. He disappeared into the caves to begin.

So many years, Opportunity retrieved perhaps, oh joy then, or conjecture, (that is all the Earth men have). They wonder where life began and where it ends and can it start again.

In the caves he began for love, for the Earth people who had sent him there, that Rover mission for their constant attention and their prayers. What would he make, his long arm capable of lifting rocks, making monuments, pyramids in the shape of the descending sun? Monuments already existed on the surface in the memory of souls lost in human atrocities. The twin moons were named after Fear and Panic, the lackeys of Mars, that god of war. Now. No. New. Not Fear, Not Panic, Not War.

In the long years, he spoke, he built, he became. And in the dark caves a new secret, hidden from flyby probes and the imagination of men. In these new caves, names for the loved ones, Bradbury, Clarke, Rover, in these new worlds, old landscapes, terraformed pastures and glades and the enduring sea and under that miraculous water not sand, not dust, not yet, not ever. Instead the red Martian rocks, deep hue, deep hewn, everlasting. To the sound of the water on rock, Spirit thought and unravelled his infant imagination and began, and began and began.

Ray Bradbury’s ‘Metal Book’

I fell in love with Ray Bradbury’s beautiful poetic prose and his sharp psychological and socialogical insight when I picked up Faranheit 451.  Although known as a science fiction writer, it seems to me that the alternate worlds he creates in order to render his discourse and express his love and fear for humanity are predominately settings/landscapes in which to explore his philosophies as another writer might use New York, Africa, a particular historical period. Having said that. science fiction creates the ultimate ‘what if’ scenario that allows writers like Bradbury and Margaret Atwood (who is seen to write both literary and science fiction) to extend the possible scenarios in which characters must grapple with challenging and unique psychological, physical and philosophical conundrums.

Now reading Bradbury’s Martian Chronicles, it is a delight to explore with him a series of scenarios that bring into focus questions about topics including the nature of reality, religious belief, cultural imperialism and self serving biases. Above all it is told convincingly but with a sense of wonder and as I have said with this gorgeous prose, particularly in the opening chapters, the scenes and emotions of which have already made a lasting impression. I’m purposely not discussing the subject matter apart from the fact that the book charts a series of expeditions from Earth to Mars but does it from the viewpoints of both the explorers and explored.

What particularly struck me is that the prose and manner of storytelling is absolutely modern, told in succinct bursts – each a short story in itself but informing the larger whole, the tale of what happened in humanity’s attempt to colonise Mars. But what is also remarkable is the prescience shown by Bradbury in a book that was published 60 years ago, in 1951. True the concerns are human and political ones, ever enduring down the ages and are absolutely relevant today.

But is was a specific prescient detail that stopped me in my tracks in the early pages of the book.  We move through a Martian house to a close up of it’s owner Mr K by himself in his room reading from a metal book. Immediately the Kindle sprang to mind! While the Kindle has E-ink to render it more apparently tactile, this one had ‘raised hieroglyphs over which he brushed his hand, as one might play a harp’. Bradbury goes on to describe that a voice sang stories as the fingers brushed over. Perhaps not an e-reader then but an audio book, extraordinary and other worldly but rooted in the physical. Still the initial impression of the ‘metal book’ displays the extent of Bradbury’s imagination, his prose and intelligence testimony to all the possibilities (both creative and destructive) of humanity.