by Trish Ayers (March 9, 2018)

When in a winter slump or experiencing writer’s block, where do you go for inspiration?

Every writer has those moments when the words stop flowing as if a faucet has been shut off.  When this happens to me I sometimes try to push through, but the words end up feeling stilted.  Eventually I realize I need to stop to regroup.

This is when I reach to my bag of inspiration tools.  I call this my INSPIRE bag.

The letter “I” stands for my favorite tool, The Idea Book.  I carry this book with me to capture ideas that pop into my head.  Many times during conversations I’ve been known to say, “this sounds like a play.”   Sometimes it is a question I wish to explore, for example, “Does power always corrupt?”  Other times I write a one-sentence description of a possible play.

Another section of my Idea Book is reserved for nuances of possible characters.  When I people watch, I usually notice mannerisms—ways of speaking, etc.—and these all end up in my Idea Book.

A third section in my Idea Book is for words or expressions that I hear that interest me.  If possible I ask the person who spoke the expression if I can use it.   I’ve never been told, “no.”

The fourth section is the miscellaneous section.  Sometimes I jot down words that rhyme; other times I see something that I want to document.  For example, when I was visiting someone in the hospital, I realized how loud the room was thanks to all the medical equipment.  I noted this, and eventually those sounds ended up in my ten-minute play, “Painting the Egress.”

The letter “N” stands for Network.  When the words aren’t coming, it can be a sign that I need to get out among people.  Being around creative people always gets my words flowing.  This is the time to go to a book reading or call up a fellow writer to ask if they want to meet for lunch or coffee.  It’s not about talking about writing but rather being around someone who understands what being a creative—and or writer—means.

The letter “S” stands for Step Out.  I have found that the simple act of taking a walk will start the words flowing.  When I walk, I pay attention to my breath, the sounds around me, people and animals I see, the smells, textures, and structures.  Often during the walk, I realize what I need to do to get my play back on the right track.  Sometimes before I allow myself to continue on my play, I take a few minutes to jot down a description of my walk.  Usually I don’t get far into this description before I’m writing on my play.

The letter “P” stands for  “Play.” There are times when the world is too much with me, and I can’t seem to focus on my writing.  For example, it is difficult for me to unwind after the Christmas holiday.  I’ve usually been away from my writing and enjoying being with family and friends. Getting back to my writing schedule proves difficult.  For that reason I declare January to be my month-long creative retreat. I don’t push myself to work on a play.  Instead I imagine I’m actually attending a retreat.  During this time I sketch every day, listen to music, watch movies, write letters, take long warm baths, lounge in my pajamas, and paint.  I don’t even allow myself to make weekly goal lists.  The length of the creative retreat can be as short as a day to as long as you may need.

The letter “I” stands for “In Process.”  I have found it is best for me to have more than one play in process, so that I can jump back and forth between the two.  I often have a full-length and a shorter piece going at the same time.  Sometimes when I stall on one of the plays, all it takes to un-stall is spend time on the other.

The letter “R” stands for “Read.”  This is important.  I’ve learned much from reading plays.  Early on in my playwriting career I mostly wrote paragraph-length dialogue.  I was familiar with plays, having spent my adult life attending plays, but I hadn’t read many.  It was when I began reading plays that I noticed  there were short sentences, sometimes not even full sentences or thoughts, medium length, and longer, bursts of dialogue.  I also read books, magazines, poems, and news articles.  News articles can inspire some of the best plays.  Thank you fellow playwright Clay McLeod Chapman for teaching me this during a workshop.

The letter “E” stands for “Entertainment.”  There is nothing like attending an exciting theatrical production to get the words flowing.  I also enjoy watching well-made movies, going to art museums, and attending concerts.  I make sure I have my Idea Book ready so I’m able to capture the ideas that catch my attention

If you find you are stalled in your writing, maybe one or more of the tricks from my INSPIRE bag will help you get the words flowing.

You may also be inspired to add some of your own tricks to your bag, if you do, please let me know!

For further reading and more ideas for tackling writer’s block, check out these articles:
Maria Konnikova, “How to Beat Writer’s Block,” The New Yorker (Mar. 11, 2o16).
Chuck Sambuchino, “7 Ways to Overcome Writer’s Block,” Writer’s Digest (May 5, 2013).