Monday 9 June 2014

Recharge Your Writing Batteries!

by Caroline Lawrence

In her bestselling book The Artist’s Way, Julia Cameron gives practical advice on how to open channels of creativity. One of her techniques is the Artist’s Date. She suggests that once a week you go to an exhibition or matinee or free lunchtime concert all by yourself, to recharge your creative batteries.

I have found this to be a wonderful way of generating new ideas. Not only does the so-called Artist’s Date feed our spirit, it boosts our creativity. Sometimes the best dates are those that have nothing to do with our specialist period or trademark genre.

So here, just in time for summer, are a dozen things from easy and cheap to slightly more expensive and challenging that those of us who write historical fiction can do to recharge our creative batteries.

1. Memorise a song or poem. Learning by heart means just that: we transfer the poem from our head to our hearts, the source of creativity. I am currently learning Shelley's Ozymandias, sometimes standing in front of the sculpture that inspired it. I've recently committed the first line of the Iliad to memory. Also a song by One Direction.

2. Play with an artefact or try a period recipe - playing with replica or real artefacts or eating ancient food often brings a surge of ideas as you feel, hear, sniff and sometimes taste an object from the past. My current experiment is tasting unusual flavours of Italian ice cream. Yes, It's a hard job... 

3. Recreate an experience from another time. Visit a London hotel in period dress for a Tea Dance. Wander a meat market like Smithfields early in the morning. Get someone to bleed you with leeches, if you dare. I took my strigil and oil flask to the Porchester Spa last month and got a "Roman" massage.

4. Attend a play or street theatre. An acrobat in Covent Garden might suggest ideas for acrobats from your historical period. A play at the Globe in London is a must for Elizabethan specialists but writers in other periods will be inspired, too. 

5. Go to a museum. Contemplate a statue from your historical period in the British Museum, or clothing at the Victoria & Albert, or a portrait at the National Gallery

6. Attend an art exhibition - The Royal Academy's Summer Exhibition is about to start. You might get the spark of an idea from something out of left field. I recently dropped by the Matisse exhibition at the Tate Modern and was inspired by his cutout of Icarus, a story from a Greek myth inspired by a WWII dogfight in the sky above France. 

7. Go to the cinema. The 2014 movie Pompeii was full of bloopers, but I found parts of it inspiring. The Two Faces of January brought back the sensation of the sun beating down on Greek ruins and the taste of ouzo. The Edge of Tomorrow reminded me of how powerful humour is in a thriller.

8. Go for a walk. Aimless walks along the riverside or through a park are wonderful for bringing subconscious ideas to the surface. But guided walks are fabulous, too. London Walks are my favourite and this is the season for them. If your guide doesn't inspire you the city itself will. 

9. Take a class. It doesn't have to be creative writing, though I love doing those. It could be basket-making, pottery or literature. An adult class in Intermediate Latin at the City Lit inspired The Night Raid, my re-telling of a story from Virgil. I've signed up for Virgil in Translation this summer.  

10. Go to a re-enactment event, festival or conference. I have gleaned more insight and inspiration from re-enactors than almost anything else. Last week I attended a conference called Visualising the Late Antique City and saw a baby's swaddling tunic. Although I'm now planning a historical novel set in the bronze age, things like weaving hardly change. Want inspiration? The Chalke Valley History Festival is coming up soon.

11. Listen to music in public. It can be anything from listening to a busker or a free lunchtime jazz at the Southbank to a full-blown opera at ENO or Dolly Parton at the O2. Let the music wash over you. Watch the musicians. Watch the crowds. Be inspired.

12. Take an expert to lunch (or tea) and pick their brain. Experts love sharing their expertise. Take them somewhere nice, like the Great Court Restaurant or the Kensington Roof Garden.

13. Travel to the country where your book is set (or where you'd like to set your book). This is my favourite way of recharging batteries and refilling the creative cisterns because it often involves all of the above. A trip to Naples last September has inspired a possible new history mystery series for kids. 

Please do add your own suggestions in the comments section or let me know how you get on. Happy writing! 


Petrea Burchard said...

It must be a sign.

Today we were talking about books that changed our lives. Besides the First Folio of Shakespeare (no surprises there), mine was "The Artist's Way." It changed my life because I did the exercises religiously, and my favorite was the Artist's Date. I remember sitting on the hood of my car at a turnout on Mulholland Drive, watching the sun set over the Pacific Ocean and drawing what I saw with colored pencils. I didn't have the faintest idea how to draw, but it didn't matter. Just allowing myself to do it expanded me.

Caroline Lawrence said...

Thanks for sharing that wonderful testimony, Petrea! Even if we never publish what the Artist's Dates inspire, they enhance our lives so much!

michelle lovric said...

Wonderful list, Caroline. But poor you, researching Italian gelato flavours. I guess someone has to do it.
Have you got any suggestions about what one can do in one's own home to refresh the spirit? An Artist's Staydate of some kind?

Carol Drinkwater said...

Caroline, I live in the south of France. So I am very privileged to be close to the Musée Matisse in Nice as well as the Chapelle du Rosaire in Vence. Matisse designed and decorated this tiny chapel for the Dominican sisters, one in particular, Monique Bourgeois. Theirs was a love story of a very special kind that I return to constantly and hope to write about one day. I visit that chapel not regularly but from time to time to breath the spiritual energy Matisse has left there. It is empowering and I always hurry home to my desk, revitalised. Sitting, meditating in locations where great artists have worked is always a source of inspiration for me. Thank you for your post.It is good to be reminded!

Caroline Lawrence said...

To inspire myself at home, Michelle, I often just sit and be present to the sounds and smells. Taking half an hour to dip into a favourite book is also good but I'm sure most writers do that anyway! And I always find an hour of Game of Thrones inspiring!

Carol, have you been to MAC Mougins near Cannes? It's FABULOUS!

Stroppy Author said...

Best not to get leeches from the river. Buy medical-grade leeches (15 for £100, so share with a friend) -

Brilliant ideas, Caroline. If ice cream often features in your research, don't write about Japan - squid ice cream, eel ice cream, cactus ice cream, stew ice cream, charcoal ice cream...

Caroline Lawrence said...

Thanks for leech tips, Stroppy! :-)

In Naples last year I saw a flavour ice cream called "Il Miracolo di San Gennaro". The Miracle of Saint January is that his powdered blood miraculously liquefies twice a year. Sadlym I was with a fast-moving tour group and didn't peel off to order a cone! Kicking myself now.

Ann Turnbull said...

As another one who is often restricted to home-based inspiration, I'd recommend Radio 4 - In Our Time, Profile, A Point of View, etc. Also TV - especially BBC4, where little gems are often hidden. And dipping into the book of A History of the World in 100 Objects. Or a book of old maps.

JO said...

I live in deepest Wiltshire - so all your London ideas are a day trip away. But a walk along the Ridgeway - following in the footsteps of travellers through the centuries - that can be an inspiration.

Becca McCallum said...

I like the idea of an Artist's Date. As of tomorrow I'm going to be unemployed from my job as curator so maybe I'll use the time when I'm not job-searching to do something creative and inspiring.

Caroline Lawrence said...

Thanks, Ann and Jo!

Becca, it's the perfect time to start your novel! For more of my best writing tips, go HERE

Carol Drinkwater said...

Caroline, our Olive Farm is in Mougins, so MAC is round the corner.