I had already decided to write a three part ‘series’ on inspiration for my next set of blog posts. Specifically, where does a writer find inspiration when they’re stuck? How do we tap into our creative juices when they seem to have dried up, when inspiration eludes? I figured I’d start with dreams (since I’ve been having some wild ones lately); then interesting characters we meet in our daily lives; and lastly places.
But as I sat down last night to write my ‘dreams’ segment (while on vacation in Chincoteague with my daughter, Jade – who if you recall from an earlier post is the Gestapo of blog posting – since vacation is apparently no excuse not to keep to the blog schedule) I was interrupted by the most spectacular lightening storm. No, ‘interrupted’ isn’t the right word. Mesmerized maybe. Riveted definitely. And ‘spectacular’ doesn’t really do it justice. Stunning. Dramatic. Incredible – in the literal sense of the word. And I realized that my dreams would have to wait.
It started with a steady growl as thunder rumbled in the distance. I looked up to a black night sky outside the wrap-around windows of our rental place. Then the sky exploded with light. Broad sheets of preternaturally flickering floodlight broken by flashes of unrestrained raw electric current crackling and zigging across the sky in every direction. And how was it possible that the sky transformed each time? Cloud formations rearranged themselves from second to second with each showy flare, not to mention the subtle but profound shifts in colouration. It gave a whole new meaning to fifty shades of grey.
Looking out over the marshy waters of the Assateague Channel, highlighted with each splash of Mother Nature’s fury, I had snippets of stories flash in my mind like frames from a film projector run amok. Danger. Intrigue. Rescue and loss. Heck, at one point, with light rippling behind and inside the clouds I even contemplated alien invasion.
With this striking setting, I knew I had to write about place as my first tip on sources of inspiration for blocked writers. Did I mention that we’re in Chincoteague, home of the famous wild ponies, including the erstwhile beloved Marguerite Henry’s Misty of Chincoteague? We’ve spent the week watching the corralling of wild ponies by Saltwater Cowboys; a sunrise pony beach walk; the pony swim across the channel, and the pony auction. It’s been exhilarating and exhausting, both physically and emotionally.
Watching these magnificent beasts in their natural environment is life affirming. While it’s easy to get carried away in the pony madness consuming Chincoteague during pony-penning week, I must admit my moral compass needle kept flipping and stabbing me periodically.
Monies raised from auctioning off new foals each year in the name of population control (somewhere approaching the quarter million dollar mark each year I’m told) go to the Chincoteague fire department. My cynical side insisted on nudging me, questioning how a volunteer fire department for a town of only 2900 people could possibly use that much money each year. Which raised the obvious question: where does the money go? Add to this the questionable ethics of selling wild ponies at all. Or how we came to have domestic horses in the first place – not a flattering part of human history. Then, perhaps because I just finished reading Lawrence Hill’s Book of Negroes, (although I suspect I would have gone there anyway) I got to thinking about the human history of slavery. The branding of the horses did not help in this regard. My despair at the human capacity for cruelty led me to question why we couldn’t be more like the horses, who I saw grooming and fiercely protecting each other. But then, I also witnessed the hierarchy of bullying within and between the herds. As I contemplated these questions, my synapses crackled like the lightening show spread out before me the night before.
What is the point of this seemingly incoherent rambling mess of a blog you may ask? The rambling mess is precisely the point. See how in thinking about this place, I’ve gone off in a surprising number of scattered directions? Well, those are all ideas. All potential kindling to start a burning fire. Stories waiting to be told.
So, the next time you’re faced with a decided lack of inspiration, a block, a never-changing blank page, think of a place or setting that affected you at some point in your life. You don’t have to go to Chincoteague or frolick with wild ponies. Just close your eyes and put yourself in that place. Beckon the sensory details to place you fully there. Hone in on the aspect that touched you. As the images come like View Master slides playing on the backside of your eyelids, let your mind wander. I wager that inspiration will come. Be open to it. It may be a lightening bolt of an idea. Or it may trickle into your consciousness like drops of rain slowly dribbling down a window pane. Either way, if you follow that inspiration, it will lead you somewhere. Go.