Winter doldrums make inspiration difficult to find
By Paula O’Kray
Many times people have asked me how I come up with ideas for stuff to write about each week. And that’s a funny answer, because it’s not always the same thing.
It can be something that’s been sitting in my craw for a while, and I need to write about it to get it off my chest. It could also be something that I’ve been hearing themes on all week, and my brain has stitched together a pattern to form some sort of theory or system that might not be apparent to those whose thinkers eventually turn off. Mine doesn’t. Like the Energizer bunny, it just keeps on going.
It might be something I overheard while in a checkout line or in a dressing room, or something funny a stranger said to me in passing, not realizing the inspiration they were also passing along at the moment. It might be some surprise episode or event that I never saw coming that made me think, laugh or cry.
Sometimes it’s a seed that forms from the little bits of life that you sweep out of your brain at the end of the day. Many times it’s in those moments just before I fall asleep or just as I wake up that ideas gel into a concept that might be column-worthy.
Once in a while people are excited when I show up at an event and ask if I’m going to write about them that week. I usually say, “Maybe …” because truthfully, I don’t know.
Sometimes I’ve planned on writing about something that turns out to be a flop, and sometimes a simple evening out with friends turns into quite an adventure. A few times I’ve had people ask me to please *not* write about them. I guess it’s kind of like being a psychologist at a party, everyone feels they’re being evaluated during the conversation.
I’m usually just enjoying myself and not thinking very hard about my column when I’m having a good time. That would be like work!
As a kid with a thinker that worked overtime, I was sometimes classified as flaky or a daydreamer. It usually happened like this – the teacher would say something that would spark a thought or idea that pulled me out of the current conversation and sent me somewhere else where my brain wanted to work out another sort of problem.
By the time my brain had taken that thought and toyed with it a bit, I’d snap back to present day and find the teacher staring at me along with the rest of the class, with an expectant look on her face. Oops. Could you repeat the question, please?
As an adult, it sometimes happens during a movie, at a lecture or unfortunately during a conversation. It’s hard to squelch a happy brain that’s found a new thought-toy to play with, as it runs off with it much like a dog with a fresh bone.
It’s not coming back anytime soon, but there still is the responsibility of carrying on the conversation that is currently going on. I’d like to say it gets easier with age, but to be honest, I like watching where my brain takes that thought-toy, and I want to run away with it as well. Not wanting to be rude, it takes a lot of concentration to rein that thought in and park it for later exploration. I’m not always successful.
I usually keep a notebook with me for that very reason. If I’m having lunch with a friend and a great song comes on in the background, I might make a note on it so I can add it to my Spotify playlist later on.
If an acquaintance makes a reference to an interesting or informational website or book, I’ll be writing that down too, because I will never remember it later when I want to. So many thoughts will have rushed across the prairie of my consciousness that there will be no way to track it down.
I’m flattered when people remark about how neat it is that I can come up with such interesting columns. It makes me feel like I actually have a talent for it. What I fear though, is that it’s simply how my brain is wired, and I couldn’t stop it if I tried.
You might be thinking, “Well she’s got to sleep sometime!” And that is true, I do. But what some of you may already have guessed is that my dreams can be just as vivid and busy. And once in a while I dream up something that can be used in a column, but with the nature of dreams being as eclectic as they are, it’s not very often.
What happens when the well runs dry, and there seems to be nothing to write about? Not necessarily a block, but a period when nothing seems to inspire. A period when energy is low, and movement is limited, and new experiences are difficult to find? Such can be the case at this time of year, in late winter.
The light is returning, albeit very slowly. Too slowly for an impatient woman like me. The weather is warming, but again, a bit too slowly. It’s really more like torture, because with this being Wisconsin, you know spring’s arrival can be a tease.
There’s a lull in activities, a sort of lame-duck period where it’s either too cold or there’s not enough snow to enjoy winter properly, and yet the explosion of spring events is still about a month away.
What’s a girl to do? Well, others suggest that when you don’t have anything to write about, there’s a disconnect. And I can see how that would be true. Besides the physical disconnect that I just described, there’s also a social disconnect. One I actually volunteered for.
I’ve been without cable for almost three years now, and still don’t miss it. Sure, I watch a show now and then on Netflix, but I’ve found the more I stay away from electronics, the more I enjoy reading, dancing, making art … and that I stay a lot happier too.
With the great race for the presidency going on, I find Facebook a very difficult place to be these days, so I have limited my time there severely. The circus just gets to be a bit much for me, and there’s a need for detox now and again.
The detox is good for me, and yet it has disconnected me to the point where I’ve found little to inspire things to write about. I guess you could say I shot myself in the foot with this one, but I know it’s only a temporary wound. Spring is just around the corner.