I have been a bit busy this summer, traveling and purchasing a new house, and have not been able to write as much as I’d like to. But just because I’m not writing, doesn’t mean I’m not collecting stories or characters for the future. So, I’ve put together a list of places you can go to gather a little writer’s inspiration…
Visit the Sharks
The aquarium can be an amazing place to soak up inspiration. Recently, I visited both the New England Aquarium in Boston, MA and the Ripley’s Aquarium in Myrtle Beach, SC. Sea creatures are remarkable and surprising, two things which make for good storytelling. Like this Leafy Sea Dragon which I stared at for a full five minutes while the rest of the museum swarmed around me.
I have been working on a novel that takes place in space, and here was my newest character. Wait, wait, wait, you might be saying. This is an underwater creature, and you’re going to put him in space? Yes! Of course! You take a trip to someplace like the aquarium so you can pick up bits and pieces of inspiration. The best part is that you can use them however you like, in whatever form suits you! Keep your fingers crossed that one day you read about the Leafy Sea Dragon transformed into Leafy the Friendly Tour Guide from the Planet Draginox.
Need to create a world, or elaborate on a mystical magical space? Check out this Mangrove Swamp I found down by the jelly fish.
I even turned a carnival character, a bearded lady named Bob, into a manatee! Well, a Manateeus, who is an alien from the Planet Carnivalle.
Love the aquarium for inspiration. The sharks will be happy to see you.
How about this one?
Stroll through your local Art Museum
When giving advice to my students about how to take in an entire art museum, I tell them this:
Walk into a gallery. Look at it as a whole first, taking in the room all at once. Then walk over to a painting that catches your eye. Let it wash over you. Then, peruse the rest of the gallery, but always come back to the painting that you started with. Spend as much or as little time as you’d like with that first painting, and then continue into the next gallery.
Our natural instincts will draw us in to certain things. This process cannot be forced. If you go to the art museum looking for a story in a painting, it will not be there. Let the story find you.
A few years ago, the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston had an extensive Chihuly glass exhibit. Not only are these glass sculptures beautiful to look at, but each holds a story. Like the wooden boat filled with glass…
I followed my own advice, and actually took two walks through the six-room exhibit. The first time I took everything in, letting the colors and the shapes just wash over me. The second time through, I spent at least ten to twenty minutes with the boat.
The story that resulted starts like this…
Brother climbed into his wooden boat and rowed out into the lake to catch a fish.
It is not a fish that he catches.
Be One with the Swamp
Nature walks are great exercise and can be a boost for your creative juices. Sometimes fresh air can be the best inspiration. Cape Cod in Massachusetts has many walking trails, including the Atlantic White Cedar Swamp Trail. It starts like any nature trail starts, on a dirt path through trees. The only sounds are natural, the rustling leaves, a calling bird, your breath. Then, there is the boardwalk, and the swamp. With one step, the world transforms. I felt a bit like Jesse Aarons in Bridge to Terebithia. Immediately, my brain started racing, and I might have said out loud:
There are not enough stories about the swamp.
It was then that I had an image of a large troll and a small boy, walking through a swamp hand in hand. I just finished Chapter One of what may become… I don’t know! A short story? a novel? a series? Only time will tell.
Meet a New Friend
I recently moved to a beautiful house on what used to be just a dirt road. The large oak which towers over the street was planted in 1958 as a sapling. Street lights didn’t appear until the 70’s, and the neighbor beside me has a dog named Lucy who barks at school buses. How do I know this? I had an unexpected visit with my worldly elderly neighbor, Maggie. She called me over to bring her newspaper to the porch.
She is “86 years old with the mind of an 18 year old. Like a steel trap.” She remembers every detail of the street, including that her own land, two and a half acres which she and her husband purchased in 1958, cost only $700. They tried to buy the land across the street too, but the man wanted $1700 for only an acre missing all of its loam (topsoil). She and her husband were carnival vendors with a 90-foot shooting gallery. She traveled all over the United States and Canada with the carnivals, and still has a trailer in Florida. This will be the first winter in fifteen years that she will spend exclusively in New Hampshire, because the trip down to Florida will be too much for her.
Tell me there isn’t a story here?
Look Out the Window
I woke up one morning, and looked out the window into my backyard. The trees were swaying back and forth, and the tops of the trees looked like leaf creatures. One leaf creature leaned in to another, with his hand cupping his mouth, telling a secret. Can you spot him in the center of the picture below?
The other creatures learned of the secret, one with surprise, and the other with despair. They rocked back and forth like this for some time. There is a story here, I know it. So, I will file away this event into the back of my mind for the day that I might need trees whispering secrets in the wind.
Sometimes for a little inspiration, all you have to do is look out your own window.
Where do you find inspiration? Feel free to share!