Inspiration Comes at the Kitchen Sink

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I’ve traveled by train through the Alps of Switzerland. I’ve sipped coffee under the first snowfall of the Canadian Rockies. I’ve ziplined through the cloud forest of the Guanacaste mountains in Costa Rica. When I think of inspiration, my mind takes me back to these mountains. They were places of absolute beauty, where I felt my heart soar, and my mind immediately wanted to create something beautiful in response. So, on that train through Switzerland, I grabbed pen and paper, and I wrote absolutely nothing.

I could hardly think of a single word. The beauty around me was so stunning and overwhelming, all I could do was sit in wonder. Nothing I could create could even compare.

Photo taken by my husband in Costa Rica, circa 2016

As it turns out, my fantasy of a writing retreat in the mountains is a terrible idea. Because my very best ideas have come to me when my mind wants to wander away. When I’m stuck in traffic listening to “Old MacDonald” on repeat with two toddlers or folding the third load of laundry that day. My mind begins to wander and suddenly I find myself in another world, as another person, living another life. You could call it plain old escapism, but as a writer, I get to call it inspiration.

And I’m not alone. Plenty of authors online tout the magic of washing dishes, Agatha Christie most famously.

“The best time for planning a book is while you’re doing the dishes.”

Agatha Christie

Another version of this quote, often credited to her, is: “The best crimes for my novels have occurred to me washing dishes.”

The repetitiveness of these simple chores is mind-numbing and dulling—not words usually used to describe artistic inspiration. Yet, that’s exactly when it happens. When the mind can drift, when it isn’t being spurred on by newness and it must create its own. Whether for the meditative benefits or creative spark, apparently Bill Gates and Jeff Bezos are two guys who love doing dishes for similar reasons, according to Insider.

“[Washing dishes] can also be a chance to relax and daydream. And creativity experts say it’s just this sort of loose mind-wandering that allows the brain to make some of its most innovate and unexpected leaps (which is why so many good ideas come to us in the shower).”

Insider

Don’t even get me started on shower thoughts. Do they make waterproof journals? I could really use a waterproof journal.

The Magic Spark

The Hope Writers prompt that inspired this post asked about a specific time I felt a creative spark, though. And that’s harder for me to pinpoint.

Ideas seem to form in a fog, slowly revealing themselves until they’re standing there introducing themselves with a crooked grin and a freckle under their left eye. I can’t say exactly when I realized the idea was there, because there were moments early on when I squinted into the fog, wondering if I had seen something, doubting myself, letting it go, looking again, catching sight of a form, still unsure if it was a person or a telephone pole.

Outside of Grace began as a single scene in my mind while I was writing my first novel (the one that lives under the bed, never to see the light of day). It was an ending, a happily-ever-after type of scene that never even remotely fit into the finished product, and I’m not sure when it came to me.

Most inspiration seems to happen while driving, for me. I live on I-35, so I have the luck of spending large amounts of time in traffic. I keep a note on my phone with the latest bits of conversation or description. When a scene floods my mind so desperately it cannot be tapped out at a red light, it becomes a voice memo, like I’m some 1980s detective.

So, as dreamy as the mountainous retreat I plan to retire in sounds, I realize there’s actually great value to living the daily life of a stay-at-home mom. There’s great value in cooking macaroni and cheese yet again, washing the three outfits that were worn that day alone, and scrubbing the floors after potty training. Because in the moments that feel like drudgery, I create.

“One wants a room with no view, so imagination can meet memory in the dark.”

Annie Dillard, The Writing life


When I First Knew I was a Writer

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When someone tells me they don’t know what they want to do for a living or what their passion is, one of the first things I want to know is: what did you want to be when you grew up? And second, what did you spend your free time doing as a child? Because, while it might not apply to everyone, those two questions reveal that I was a writer from the time I was eight years old.

Photo by Yannick Pulver on Unsplash

My earliest goals were to be either an artist or an astronaut (hey, I was six). Once I was well into elementary school, I realized I would never have the scientific skills to pursue my interstellar dreams. But the dream of becoming an artist began to shape and mold itself into wordplay. At ten, I fell in love with a show about children creating a newspaper during the American Revolution (Liberty’s Kids, if you want to know exactly how old I am). They had a website that let you create your own single-page newspaper and I used it to begin a family newsletter that I proudly printed and mailed to my aunts. I would draft up the latest family happenings, from my sister’s basketball game, to my brother’s black eye. A decade later, I held a degree in journalism.

There were other signs too—like the creative writing class I took as a 12-year-old. I stole inspiration from the novels I loved, crafting stories that bordered on plagiarism, though no one seemed to recognize it. The teacher praised me highly and I began to catch a glimpse of myself as a writer.

If there’s one moment though, I would point to something that happened three years later. At 15, I was busy with high school, distracted by peers, and trying to babysit all I could to afford my own phone. I wasn’t doing much writing outside of my journal and a pen pal, but I still loved it and dabbled in it when I could. I was attending a charismatic church at the time and the wife of the lead pastor said God had told her something about me. We didn’t know each other well and hadn’t spent any time together, so she admitted she might be off. She said, “I’m not sure if you enjoy writing or not, but I feel like God showed me that you’re going to write words that will make history. You’re going to be an earth-shaking writing.” Talk about a confidence boost!

From that moment on, I knew I was going to be a writer.

JUST KIDDING! Nope. I mean, at that moment , sure, I thought I’d be a writer. But I had plenty of people speaking negativity into my life as well. There’s no shortage of people willing to tell aspiring journalists that newspapers are dying, media are evil, writers are starving artists, and so on and so forth. Just walking into the library made me want to give up—how could I ever stand a chance when there’s already millions of books out there?

So, I spent a year and a half at a community college with a general studies major. When I transferred to the University of Texas, I entered as a linguistics major. I thought I might go into speech therapy. My love for language was unshakeable, but I didn’t think writing was a viable option. One month into linguistics, I was applying to transfer to the journalism school. (Let’s just say linguistics was not my gifting.) A kid in my linguistics class told me, “good luck, I’ve been rejected twice.” He went on to tell me that it was a highly exclusive club and few got in, many had to re-apply semester after semester. I didn’t have time to spare, I was already ending my sophomore year.

So God made a way. In fact, I think he let me momentarily lose sight of writing for a reason. If I had applied to UT’s journalism school as an outsider, I might not have made it in. But being a student already and then applying to transfer programs helped pave the way (yes, the student above had been rejected as an inside transfer, it still wasn’t easy). Now, after several years of journalism, God’s been reawakening a love for writing fiction, inspiring novel after novel—faster than my hands can type them (and I’m not slow).

You know what they say about hindsight? Well, it’s true. It’s amazing how confusing things like majors and careers can feel as a young adult. The options seem endless, the pros and cons stretch on forever. But when I look back, it’s easy to say—of course! It was right there all along! And I think it often is. Our passions can be found when we think back to a time before we worried about job availability, average salaries, etc. Our passions were clear when they were childhood dreams. (And if you think yours were all over the place, there are jobs for that too. Mine were too as a child, and that’s what I love about journalism and writing—it lets me explore a variety of fields and interests.)

I would love to hear others’ stories! When did you know you would be a… Whatever it is you are today! Please share!

/This was written as a response to Hope Writers‘ January prompts./