Helps and Hurts

"Her 'scribbling suit' consisted of a black woolen pinafore on which she could wipe her pen at will, and a cap of the same material, adorned with a cheerful red bow, into which she bundled her hair when the decks were cleared for action." ~Louisa May Alcott, Little Women

My writing partner suggested we exchange lists of the things that inspire creativity in our scribbling and the things that hinder it. How do we feed the Muse (or, conversely and tragically, starve her)? I thought it was a gorgeous idea and darted off a silly little list off the top of my head. I decided to post it here in case it might be an encouragement (or a source of amusement ;)) to any of you other artists out there. Which, of course, is every one of you.


~MUSIC. The Lord of the Rings soundtrack (I know, I am a dork.). Anything by Andrew Peterson. The Innocence Mission—pick an album blindfolded. The Finches. (old) REM. (new) A-ha. Vashti Bunyan. Kate Rusby. Mozart, particularly the Masses. The Anne soundtrack. Never fails.
~Beautiful and inspiring movies, like Chariots of Fire. (I’ve already said I was a dork.) Laughing till I cry over old Jeeves and Wooster episodes. LotR. A sojourn in Avonlea. “Bonnet dramas”.
~Playing classical music on the piano.
~Long drives with the music turned up LOUD.
~20 minute naps.
~TEA!!! ANY KIND!!!! (But especially, oh most especially, Sweet Lemon Cream Rooibus. And Yorkshire Gold.)
~Journaling. It’s like priming the pump.
~Long thoughts on long walks.
~Philip. Yes, of course.
~Talking to my sister. About anything.
~Talking to my mother and hearing funny stories.
~Daddy’s voice mails that begin, “Hello, is Harper Lee in?” (That makes me feel like I can do anything. Also, Daddy giving me a second-hand book on writing. Just because.)
~AP’s post today on The Rabbit Room. YES.
~Having a fresh encounter with Grace this week that makes me want to shout from the rooftops how great is His love.
~Reading Ray Bradbury on writing and remembering what wild fun it really is. “WORK! RELAX! DON’T THINK!!” Great stuff. (“You might give my method a try,” he cajoles. “If you do, I think you might easily find a new definition for Work. And the word is LOVE.”)
~Peacocks. They would wring poetry from the heart of a pile of bricks.
~Reading C.S.Lewis
~Circling for fodder. Like a kind-of amiable vulture.
~Letting my people say whatever they want.
~T.S. Eliot and Gerard Manley Hopkins.
~Small bars of delectable, organic, bittersweet chocolate. My version of Jo March’s writing cap.
~Space heaters.
~The Flannery quotes my friend Jonathan Rogers keeps posting. Like this one: “Wouldn’t it be better to discover a meaning in what you write than to impose one?”


~Forgetting about the miracle of Grace that permeates every particle of my being. Even the creative ones. Trying hard to “be good”.
~Email. I once heard someone describe themselves as “the Amish of email”. Yep. That’s me.
~30 minute naps.
~Too much caffeine.
~Untrammeled negative thoughts about how terrible my book is.
~Unwritten thank you notes and unreturned phone calls and unanswered emails.
~Cat hair. I’m serious.
~Being too cold and cranky and stodgy to get out and take a walk. Also being too busy.
~Thinking about Evelyn Waugh’s mastery with spiritual hints and symbols. Magic to read; disaster to compare to.
~Reading C.S. Lewis. 😉
~Forgetting to eat.
~Not ‘getting out of the way’ of the story. Trying to harass it into existence.
~Censoring my people.
~Not going to bed on time.
~Dishes in the sink.

I absolutely LOVE what Bradbury says about ‘ideas’:

“…I thought you could beat, pummel, and thrash and idea into existence. Under such treatment, of course, any decent idea folds up its paws, turns on its back, fixes its eyes on eternity, and dies.”

So, what are your tricks of the trade? Do you write in fingerless gloves or compose symphonies in the middle of a church service or draw inspiration for your decor from the paintings of the Pre-Raphaelites? Do tell. I’d love to hear what moves you.

And now I’m off to brew a pot of rooibus tea and get to Work.

I mean Love.

16 Responses to “Helps and Hurts”

  1. Abby Maddox says:

    I greatly enjoyed this glimpse at the real you. I loved that C.S. Lewis made both lists. What makes both of my lists is exercise…If I don’t, then I’m crabby but I have much more time to write. If I do, I usually find great inspiration on my runs, but then find myself with a smaller window to write.

  2. Elizabeth says:

    Lovely, lovely post!
    Happy writing!

  3. Olivia says:

    Ah, I love Jo March! Something about her makes me want to scribble away at a novel. And listening to P. G. Wodehouse often loosens the pen. I entirely concur about chocolate, especially dark . . . not a bad writing-cap, though not one to bundle your hair into 🙂 Forgetting to take walks and unwritten letters are definitely hard on writing.

    This is fun! Thank you for your delightful posts, I read them often.


  4. jodi says:

    Gregorian chant, medieval music of any kind, Innocence Mission (Glow), Keats, Goudge, nature walks, art museums, bottles of ink, the smell of oil paint and melting wax, and office supply stores – I’m a dork, too 🙂

    Last but not least, reading the blogs of other creative souls–my own little armchair Inklings 😉

    • Lanier Ivester says:

      You make me realize I left The Anonymous 4 off of my music list! And boys’ choirs!!!

      And Bright Star off of movies! And The King’s Speech

      (And I ‘get’ the office supply store thing, too, my friend. ;))

      This world is crammed with inspiration, in the goodness of God, isn’t it?

  5. Maryann Faro says:

    When perfectionsm and self-doubt paralyze me, I read this quote from “The Right to Write,” by Julia Cameron:

    “I am willing to write badly. I am willing to do the work to finish this project whether it is any good or not.”

  6. Maryann Faro says:

    How ironic yet fitting that I made a typo in the word “perfectionism.”

    Another little thing: To prevent myself from self-criticism and self-censoring during the creative process, I sometimes look away from the screen as I write. If I’m handwriting, I don’t look down at the page.

    • Lanier Ivester says:

      Love it, Maryann, re: perfectionism. 😉 And I am most heartily impressed by your solution to the roadblocks of the ‘inner editor’.

  7. While I do not write books like you and other amazingly gifted writers, I get inspired in my writing by reading… great writing.

  8. Rachel says:

    I love Vashti Bunyan – “Lookaftering” is the most beautiful, melancholy sounding music, it sounds like the English countryside in the drizzle.

  9. JANNA says:

    Days of rain. Black tea with a dash of milk. Soundtrack music on my iPod (John Barry’s High Road to China being #1 of MANY). Movies with impossibly great dialogue (the Manchurian Candidate, The Man for All Seasons, Shakespeare in Love) – great writing just leaves me intimidated (an unexpected consequence of the degree). Hearing what inspires other writers (THANK YOU!). The quiet dark between midnight and 4am. But most of all… when the characters come out and tell me what to say. Yes, dear friend, I feel exactly the same way.

  10. Joan Drennen says:

    So happy you are up to this mission!

    Creativity flows when I don’t take the seriousness of life too seriously.
    You, and every writer, artist I love, (person, for that matter) has a brook of wit laughing through their souls, spilling out, bringing light.
    I’m certain it stems from a confident contact with the Good. They are secure, yet they are free.

    I (being what my teenage daughter sums up as “totally melancholic”) have a stash of solemn quotes scribbled in my journal for inspiration when everything is tough and it’s impossible to be fruitful effortlessly:

    “The place that Christian hope assigns us is that narrow ridge, that borderline at which our vocation requires that we choose, everyday and every hour, to be faithful to God’s faithfulness to us. While we are on earth, this choice cannot help but tear us in two. But hope never allows us therefore to fall to self pitying. It is the suffering of the woman who is bringing a child into the world. Each time we are thus torn apart, we become as it were breaches in the world’s resistance. We open up space for God’s life to pass through.”
    -Madeleine Delbrel

    “The true use of art is, first, to cultivate the artist’s own spiritual nature.”
    -George Inness

    “Suffering is the origin of consciousness.”

    “The poetic quality is not obtained by eschewing any truths of fact or of Nature…Poetry is the vision of reality.”
    -George Inness

    I loved the Richard Wilbur poem. Thank you! Keep at it!

    A young writer I met this Thanksgiving, while home on college break, relayed to me the joy of spending the long Thanksgiving afternoon relaxing with her brother. He finally looked up at her, where she had sat at the kitchen table working away for an hour.
    “What are you doing?” he asked quizzically.
    “I am writing a sentence!” she answered contentedly.

    May you have the thrill of many good sentences!

    • Lanier Ivester says:

      I *love* your ‘solemn quotes’, Joan. Thank you for taking the time to share them–a great boon to inspiration for me this morning!

      And what a poignant vignette of a writer. May I never long lose sight of the fact that the real JOY is in the sentences, whether tinkered out or exploding fully-blown, to the glory of God the Creator!

  11. Laura Peterson says:

    What a delightful post, Lanier! It’s fun to ponder these things – don’t think I’ve ever done it before. The first inspiration that comes to mind is music in the kitchen – cooking is SO much more fun and less stressful when there is good music along with the sizzle of a pan or the persistent beeps of the oven timer. It makes me feel like any “oops” moment can be corrected and any burnt dish can be somehow salvaged, and that I am free to take my time and for goodness’ sake have fun. Current favorites have been Over the Rhine and the soundtrack to Les Choristes. Gives a whole new twist to “feeding the Muse.” 🙂

    • Lanier Ivester says:

      Love it, Laura!

      And a dear friend recently recommended (and played for me) the Les Choristes soundtrack. Thank you for the reminder of such a treasure! 🙂

  12. SD Smith says:

    Well said, Lanier, as always. Love Ray Bradbury’s remarks.

    Looking forward to your first book!

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