Inspiration in the Everyday
By Laura S. Marshall | Friday, March 13, 2020
By Laura S. Marshall
Friday, March 13, 2020
People often think of writing as a mystical exercise: A writer sits down in solitude and selects a pen, smooths a sheet of pristine paper, and spills out prose or poetry from a place of secret inspiration. It’s the best feeling: the universe coalescing around you, coaching you, conspiring with you to create beauty and truth.
But sometimes you might sit down, smooth out that blank paper, and ... nothing. Sometimes the inspiration disappears. You want to write, but you’re not sure where to start. It’s frustrating -- but there are strategies that can help bring inspiration back.
One of my favorite strategies is collage. In writing, collage involves collecting snippets of language, images, and ideas from various sources and arranging them in new ways to bring out new meanings and create new messages.
Think of all the places where you encounter words every day: conversations on the bus, captions on Instagram posts, coffee orders at Starbucks; ads on Hulu, assignment instructions, advisories on cold medicine bottles; texts from your best friend, tweets from sneaker companies, tips on healthy living from celebrities. And a million other sources. We’re bombarded by language whenever we’re awake, and most of the time we don’t even notice.
But it’s where we live our lives. Everyday language helps us think our thoughts and learn new things and even understand our feelings. So why not start collecting that everyday language to use when inspiration slips away?
I like to keep a notebook where I can jot down funny phrases, fascinating words, and quotes from friends, family, and other places (social media captions are a favorite of mine, especially translations from other languages) to use in poems and stories. (I also have a Google doc on my phone with language I’ve gathered in my daily travels.)
When I’m writing, I like to look over these pieces of everyday language to see what strikes me as most interesting in that moment. Usually one will shout to me, and when I put it on its own page, it will either call to another phrase on the list, begging it to join it in a poem, or it’ll spark a fire in my own thoughts that burns through to something completely new. I can collage these bits of language together in myriad ways, moving them around to build word mosaics and ultimately reveal a message -- sometimes one I wasn’t even aware I was uncovering. That everyday language turns into true art.
In this way, writing can be both mystical and down-to-earth. I advise all writers to try collecting lists of everyday language fragments and see how you can combine and collage them into your poems, stories, or plays.