The ’29 Ways to Stay Creative’ graphic has being doing the rounds on-line for a while but, like all good advice, it’s worth coming back to and checking in with from time to time.
When I read it, I see lots of different ways it can help my writing and poetry – to generate new ideas, to get started writing that first draft, to keep going when things get tough, to defeat writer’s block and to clear my head at the end of one project to make space for something new.
One of my favourite ways to stay creative is very simple: I go for a walk.
There is a particular stretch of road, near where I live, I’m beginning to believe imbued with mystical powers, as I always get ideas for poems when walking there.
On one occasion, a few years back, I was putting together a collection of poems for a competition and realised I didn’t have my title poem. I had based the theme of the collection around something I’d remembered writing some time before, only to find, when I dug out the poem in question, that it was complete dud. D’oh! Deadline a-looming, I culled the piece to just one line and took it for a walk.
My favourite walk is not a particularly breathtaking route, no inspirational vistas, no calm, meditative quiet; a busy main road, whose redeeming qualities, to me, are that it is very long and straight, and it is lined with very old trees. It’s been midwife to many poems and even the setting for one.
Maybe it’s a rhythm thing, the beat of footsteps echoing iambic pentameter, percussion that demands a poetic riff; maybe the straightness of the road means some part of my brain, that might otherwise be concerned with navigation, can now engage in the creative act; maybe it’s the trees and a belief that they are living, sentient beings, whose nature is benevolent and presence beneficial, most likely instilled by my early reading habits – Enid Blyton’s The Faraway Tree books and Tolkein’s The Lord of the Rings, take a bow.
And on this particular day, I walked up the road, trying to remember how I’d generated ideas before – did I empty my mind, did I focus on one thing, did I pay attention to my surroundings and work off that? I tried to do all three individually, then, with an increasing sense of panic, all three at once.
I often find myself getting caught up with the narrative of a poem, wondering how to get to the next place in a logical manner, using it to tell a story, when the beauty of poetry is that connections between ideas don’t have to be direct, they can break free of the restrictions of a straightforward prose piece.
As I turned to start walking back, I asked myself a question: What kind of poems do I like to read? What are my favourite poems from the ones I have written?
My answer was clear and defined. My favourite poems are those whose stanzas are like a stone skimming across the surface of a lake, where the only thing that connects the places the stone lands is the journey of the stone itself; seemingly random events tied by the voice of experience.
And there it was: the skipped stone became the central motif for the poem and it’s structure.
Our whole lives are a series of random acts; we identify the links between them and create meaning. It’s also a useful way to think about writing – write what you need to write, don’t worry about the narrative, there are a million ways to make connections between them and you’ll find them when you’re ready, when you least expect it.
You may even stumble upon them whilst walking down a street.