~ By Laura Oliver
Laura Oliver, M.F.A., is the author of The Story Within: NewInsights and Inspiration for Writers. Her essays and short stories appear in numerous regional and national periodicals such as The Washington Post, Country Living, and Glimmer Train. She has taught Creative Writing at the University of Maryland and currently teaches writing at St. John’s College. Nominated for a Pushcart Prize, her work has won numerous distinctions, including a Maryland State Arts Council Individual Artist Award in Fiction. Her M.F.A. is from Bennington College.
As a long-time teacher of creative writing, and the author of The Story Within, New Insights and Inspiration for Writers (Penguin/Random House), I am often asked how writers can maintain their momentum when a workshop ends, or when the going gets slow on a long-term project like a memoir or novel. Writing is like exercise in that it’s difficult to make yourself begin, but you are never sorry that you invested the time in the end; you just feel better. And as with exercise, I have found that there are tools that can be used to make getting started or maintaining a writing practice easier. Think about it this way: if you’re going for a run, you crank up your playlist. Well, if you’re sitting down to write, you swap the idea of “discipline” for “inspiration.”
How do you find what inspires you? A good starting point is finding a unique and safe place to write in which you surround yourself with tokens of past successes. Your inspiration doesn’t have to come from a framed acceptance letter or book jacket poster—the red ribbon you won in third grade for the standing broad jump will work just as well. Reminders of previous success, like feelings of gratitude, put the writer in receiving mode. Additionally, rereading your best work activates your creative-right-brain by connecting you to your most authentic voice. Likewise, reading works from authors who you love can also be inspiring, as can using a book of prompts, or even going for a walk. I also suggest giving yourself a time limit for writing. Thinking, “I’m going to write with abandon for just 10 minutes”—mutes the internal critic and makes the task feel manageable. You’ll say to yourself: “Ten minutes? I can do anything for ten minutes.” Then, ten minutes often magically extends to 20, and then 40. Additionally, joining an informal writing group can be motivating because it ensures that your work is read.
Some of the most lasting sources of inspiration for writers are writing conferences, which are usually one-day events that offer a variety of lectures, workshops, and opportunities to learn from other well-published and critically-acclaimed writers. Attending a writer’s conference is like reading an anthology because you are simultaneously exposed to many experts and topics in just one day. You also have the advantage of meeting and socializing with other writers who can provide you with a wealth of information—the techniques they use to write, the places they’ve published where you might like to submit as well, their recommendations on great books on craft, and their knowledge of ongoing writing groups. You’ll see firsthand that writers are not depressed recluses but mothers and fathers, professionals from all walks of life, and totally ordinary people who observe life with a keen eye, are acutely self-aware, and who long to connect with others. Writers write not because they want to escape the world, but because they love it.
To provide Capitol area writers with more tips to add to their toolkits, my colleague at St. John's College, Lynn Schwartz, and I are hosting our third annual Writing Intensive Workshop on June 3 from 9:15 a.m. to 6:00 p.m. on the historic St. John’s College Campus in Annapolis, Maryland. The program will feature Pulitzer-Prize winning instructors, as well as a variety of workshops. Breakfast, lunch, afternoon coffee, and a networking wine reception are included. Click the following link to register and to learn more. Instruction and inspiration await!