Finding Inspiration

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Writers find inspiration in the most unlikely places. For me, yesterday, I found it when Halloween fell over the sunset in Sweden’s west coast archipelago. Although Halloween isn’t celebrated in Sweden in the way that it is in North America, (no trick or treaters, no witches or ghosts or candy), the orange sky melted its way over the small fishing village of Grundsund as a truly lustrous charm. It was as though all the pumpkins turned Jack-o-lanterns in my childhood had flickered their flames across the water, bringing me home once again. I was grateful. It felt as though the sun had given me alone something special to remember Halloween by.

I’d had a lovely day trip with my family up the coast with lunch at Brygghuset IMG_8785in Fiskebäckskil, where I was once again faced with the dilemma – to reap the rewards of the sillbord or not. In plain old English, herring buffet or no herring buffet before the main meal? That was the question. Please don’t get me wrong, I have the utmost respect for my Swedish family, friends and their Viking ways but “sill” is not one of them. Not for me, not ever. I may have dual citizenship now, but I am Canadian through and through when it comes to keeping some order to my plate of food. Let me present my husband’s appetizer plate: pickled herring (stekt inlagd strömming), boiled eggs, pickled fried herring, pickled red cabbage (rödkål), pickled mustard herring (inlagd senapsill), pickled in a different way herring (matjesill), herring cake (silltårta), herring potato salad (potatissalad med sill).

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Are you inspired?

That’s what I thought.

How about my son’s plate?

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No, didn’t think so. Whereas my very Viking boy was licking his lips when he sat down to eat this feast for the eyes. His eyes, I reiterate. In fairness, I have to add that the food at this restaurant was otherwise absolutely delicious and I would recommend it to anyone. And who knows, I’m sure there is a herring lover somewhere in Canada, too.

Now where is this all going you might be asking yourself? A writer’s inspiration. How can a plate of Swedish food inspire a writer? Well, all I will say is that I am absolutely certain there is a writer somewhere in Sweden who is inspired by this food enough to win a Nobel prize in literature, but not me.

As we sat in Brygghuset mulling over our options for the afternoon, I peered out the window to find inspiration headed straight toward me—a twenty-three meter luxury yacht from Norway. All that oil, you know. Before it made it to the dock, I was already conjuring up my next novel, taking place on a tiny island in the South Pacific and arriving on that.

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A few photo bursts later, we were walking along the newly built dock in Grundsund, the one that wraps around the shoreline hugging yet another of Sweden’s lovely fishing villages. IMG_8812 The orange sunset was the crowning glory to a perfect day. How could it not inspire you? As we drove off, not exactly into the sunset, but rather in the dark to the ferry to Orust, a sea of flickering lights all over the local cemetery, on all the graves of loved-ones, reminded me how Halloween is Allhelgona (All Hallows’ Eve) here in Sweden. It is a “gentle remembrance of the saints and of those loved ones who (have) died.” Once again I felt inspired and know that somehow that sea of candle light will work its way into my writing.

What I love about writing is how those lovely moments of inspiration seem to come when you least expect them. As I sat writing this post, my son shouted across the house for everyone to look at the sky. What had been unusually and completely orange on Halloween, tonight on November 1, the sky was a stunning purple.  No, not just purple, it was amethyst! I’ve never seen anything like it. Click, click went the mobile phone. It was something I simply had to capture—a moment that was gone as quickly as it came. But what a jewel!

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I would love to know where and when and even what inspires you. Please feel free to comment below.

Every Time, Times Twenty

1) Every time I sit down to write a blog post, I wonder what can I write that hasn’t already been written.

2) Every time I wake to a cold house, I feel like I’m living in Little House on the Prairie as I light a fire for warmth. (That’s a good thing.)

3) Every time my husband travels to the far corners of the world, I feel grateful that I miss him even more today than ever before. IMG_8392

4) Every time I doubt myself as a writer, I remind myself how fortunate I am to be published at all.

5) Every time the sun shines here in Sweden, I close my eyes and let it soak into my skin.

6) Every time my friend needs a shoulder, I realize how lucky I am to have my children safe at home and how I wish I could take her pain away for all time.

7) Every time I see my daughter dancing on stage, I cry.

8) Every time I start reading a new book, I rid myself of expectations.

9) Every time I fall in love with a book, I try with every fibre in me, to read it slowly and make it last. FullSizeRender.jpg kate morton

10) Every time I see a person sitting outside the shops with a cup and sign, I feel uncomfortable and angry and ashamed of myself all at once, when I walk right past.

11) Every time I look them in the eye and smile, it feels good.

12) Every time I step out of my comfort zone, I tell myself that if nothing else, this will be a great experience.

13) Every time my teenage children confide in me, I whisper to myself, “Don’t blow it, Susan, just keep quiet and listen.”

14) Every time I keep quiet and listen, I can feel their appreciation.

15) Every time my children tell me a grade from school, I try my hardest to react like my husband does—non-judgmental and proud.

16) Every time I have writer’s block, the frustration is so excruciating, I think I could go mad.

17) Every time I come across one of those melt in your mouth expressions or words, I feel like I’ve gone to writer’s heaven.

18) Every time I think of my sister, I wish she was close enough to drop by for a cup of tea.

19) Every time I see an overweight person jogging, I feel admiration and inspired.

20) Every time a moose visits our garden, nothing else matters. FullSizeRender.jpg moose

If you would like to share your twenty or even ten “times”, I’d enjoy hearing from you.

My 6 Things About Writer’s Block – what are yours?

1) RESEARCH.

For me, I find that writer’s block often stems from a lack of research. When I have a pile of research behind me, I can actually feel it driving me forward. Go little red caboose! Or is it the little engine that could? Either way, the one drawback is that research can go on and on and on. There are times when I don’t know when to say, “Enough! Time to move forward.” What I need to do as a writer is find the clues within that pile. I know it needs to be taken apart in pieces – what works for me, what doesn’t. I can do more research later if need be. But that pile – I think about it endlessly, to the point it becomes a cyclone of information whirling in my head. That might be all well and good, but at some point girl, you need to sit down and write!

2) EXCUSES.

Yes, any number of them. They come in hoards. When I’m staring at a blank screen, it’s quite remarkable how easily they come; I need to pick up my daughter from school, it might be better to get groceries early in the day to avoid crowds, the garden slugs need to be taken care of. Here I come to the rescue – rubber gloves and bucket in hand. Stop with the excuses – just write!

3) THE KITCHEN.

The number of times I get out of my chair, leave my desk only to go make yet another cup of tea or peruse the fridge for something healthy to nibble on. How is it that I’m so gullible, kidding myself that I need something at all? Finally I reach for that one thing I know I shouldn’t eat. Did that help? NOOO! Sit back down and write for goodness sake. It doesn’t matter what – just write!

4) HOUSEWORK.

How did such a dreaded thing as housework ever become so desirable? There is absolutely a direct correlation between how clean my house is and how much writing I’ve accomplished. It’s amazing how I suddenly realize the importance of wiping the soot off the fireplace glass surround, when the only eyes to see it belong to the ever-present chirping bird outside my window – the bird that is no doubt castigating me for leaving my writing desk in the first place. Think of your writing as housework if you must – and write!

5) WEEKENDS.

Is there such a thing for this writer? The answer is easy when my writing is going well. But when writer’s block hits, weekends suddenly become very, very appealing. The family is off. No school. No work. Two days of pure, unadulterated freedom – from what? My own mind, that’s what? It’s like wanting to take a vacation from my own brain for two days, when I know full well, I can’t, shouldn’t, MUST NOT. So, get up early, before everyone in the family – and sit down to write! Yes, write!

6) BETWEEN PROJECTS.

For me, I tend to experience writer’s block between projects, when I’m undecided about the route I want to take. This is particularly painful for me. I might have ten ideas that I’m developing at once, all falling into a deep abyss of nothingness. In actual fact, it’s not nothingness – far from it, because I am writing. Maybe my course is shaky but I am doing what I insist above, despite any excuses, despite the kitchen, despite the housework and weekends. I am toying with possibilities. I am creating new characters and ideas. Perhaps I use as little as a name in the project that actually develops into something, but writing nothing would be a far more serious crime in my eyes. So, I say to myself, “keep writing, for something is bound to come of it!”

Now that I’ve got that off my chest, here are two productive ways to help with writer’s block.

  • Read as much as possible, within your genre and outside your genre, but read good literature. Surround yourself with quality. You might just be surprised at how easily it rubs off.
  • Give yourself permission to write badly. Now this one I’m still coming to grips with, especially given the sentence above. I tend to be very picky, fighting to find just the right word as I go along. I often ask myself, “Do I need to be so picky?” “Is it serving me well or is it hindering the process?” and alas, “Would my story be further along if I relaxed and just wrote whatever came to mind?” I recently read an article, 5 Creative Cures for Writer’s Block that put it into perspective. It is certainly something I want to consider as a writer and put into better practice.

“The first draft requires a show of sinew, not nuance. We write badly because we need our early drafts to show us, in broad strokes, what we’re actually supposed to be writing about. We write badly because we need to focus our energy on the larger story and structure, and can’t possibly attend to all the elements that make up a developed or refined work. We write badly because, even if we revise as we draft – and, mea culpa, many of us do – either we can’t revise with a complete manuscript in mind or we’re too close to that manuscript to have sufficient perspective…”

The point is to write, be it badly or not. Our writing will improve the more we read. Once we have something written, it’s then that we can revise, change, improve, whether it’s the plot, the characters, the POV, the grammar. It’s all part of our own editing. Writer’s block is real and it’s painful and frustrating beyond any writer’s words. BUT, it can be manageable. The key is to write – and through our writing, eventually, the right words will come.

What are some things about writer’s block for you?