To build freshness into your life you have to structure it into your day or week. I try to get away from the desk and my writing as often as I can, to do something that has no direct relationship with it. As well as giving the brain and the keyboard a well-earned break, it means I can immerse myself in another world and use that a source for ideas.
Stimulus can be any experience that is new to you. It's the bread and butter of the creative process. If you immerse yourself in interesting stimuli you can't help but have ideas. If instead you stick to the same old, same old, your ideas can dry up or be narrow and lacking texture and richness.
Sometimes I seek out stimulus directly related to what I am writing about – but is still new to me. Two recent examples are visits I made to The Ragged School at Mile End in London to see for myself what life in a Victorian classroom might have been like, and a trip to the British Dental Museum to find out about Victorian dentures!
Those kinds of trips, being directly related to the challenge in hand, fall more into the category of research. What can be even more interesting is to jump into something that appears on the surface to bear no relation at all to what you're writing about.
Here are some examples:
One of my favourite freshness escapes is to visit a gallery or an exhibition. So many times I've stood in front of a painting and found it has unexpectedly unlocked a problem with my book – or even opened up a whole new idea for a story. A recent visit to the Gothic exhibition at the British Library led to me kill off a character and having another become an avid reader of penny dreadfuls.
I recently went to the USA, where a trip to a city I didn't even want to visit, threw up unexpected connections with the themes I'm writing about in my current novel – Catholicism and alcoholism. When I got home, a couple of minor characters pushed themselves onto centre stage, took me to St Louis (a very Catholic city in the 1870s – and the headquarters of the Annheuser Busch brewery) and opened up a whole new part of the narrative. Always wonderful when your characters take over and do the work for you!
In a deliberate attempt to try something different (and get out of my comfort zone) I took up painting a few years ago – never having held a brush since primary school. The act of painting has transformed my approach to writing by heightening my powers of observation – invaluable when trying to capture a place in a novel. It also led me to make the main character of my last novel, Kurinji Flowers, a painter – something I would never have done otherwise. In fact the whole idea for Kurinji Flowers came out of my painting – as it was conceived on a sleepless night in a hotel room on a painting trip to Kerala.
A phone call from my late father's last living sibling got me started on exploring my family history. This detective work threw up some wonderful, but incomplete, stories - one of which haunted me until I accepted it had to be the start point for my current novel. I'm also plundering the family history for some short stories I'm working on right now. The facts provide some structure but it's the gaps between the facts that are really interesting: why did he end up there? How did they come to meet? How did she die? While the historian in me wishes my parents were still around to answer some of my questions, the novelist in me is happy to have free rein to invent.
I learned to quilt as part of running a website about making and mending things and now paper quilt templates have become the means of concealing secret letters in my current novel. I didn't expect that to happen!
Forcing myself to read Victorian poetry, as part of the background to my work in progress, led to me making one of my characters a poet and also gave me the title to the book – from a poem by Edward Dowson.
Some ways you can build the Freshness habit into your own writing life – take a random bus or train trip to somewhere you've never been before (however dull it might sound); read a magazine on a topic you know nothing about; take a familiar walk and try to notice things you've never spotted before; listen to some music you've never heard before; read a novel in a different genre; go to an exhibition or a museum; try a new hobby; go to watch a sport or game - if you don't like it you can watch the crowd and eavesdrop on some of the conversations – authors are usually great dialogue thieves!
I'm writing a non-fiction book at the moment on bringing freshness into your life and work – not just for writers but for everyone who wants to bring some creativity into their life – and I'd love to hear how other people do it.
What's your way of stimulating your creative juices? How has your own writing changed as a result? What's the strangest "fresh" experience you've ever had?
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How To Bring Freshness Into Your Writing by @clarefly
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