According to Kelly Diels (owner of Cleavage, a blog about sex, money and meaning) inspiration is fickle. It's a friend with benefits for copywriters. Something that rarely comes, except maybe each six weeks. So copywriters must find inspiration in the mundane. Something beautiful can be found in a grocery list, an email to a friend, a bank lineup, or an SMS message. Ideas from everyday experiences are what Diels says to use for putting together brilliant copy. We all lead lives with responsibilities. Some of us are mothers, wives, workers. "Prisoners can still write brilliant poetry between beatings." she says
But Diels had more than that to offer during the two hour Red Shoe Blogger Writing Workshop I took July 2010 in downtown Vancouver.
Getting to the workshop on time was exciting.
I woke up at 4 a.m. and my husband and I packed our camping gear and kids into our F350 Diesel one-tonne truck and headed to Vancouver from Vernon. We were going to the island with our seven and nine year old boys for a holiday, anyway, so the workshop was a couldn't-miss opportunity.
A quick stop for breakfast at Denny's in Kamloops was a nice relief, but then I quickly realized that getting to the workshop on time would be tight. Over the Coquihalla highway we flew, with the kids asking, "How long 'til we get there?" about every half an hour. When we got stuck in a construction traffic jam in Surrey, I thought for sure I wouldn't make the one o'clock workshop at all. Traffic over the Port Mann bridge turtled along. We wound our way along Hastings, an area known to be populated with homeless, mostly heroin drug users. My kids were fascinated with the "Hobos." I have no idea where they got that word. We reiterated to them in our most serious parenting voices, "Never try those little white candies with the faces on them, or you'll end up here."
Finally, success. We arrived at the corner of Hastings and Cambie. My husband circled the block once so he could figure out exactly the right place to drop me off. (He takes care of me.) "I don't think I'll be able to park the truck here with all the camping gear in the back if we want to come back to any of it." he said. I said, "I've got my phone. I'll text you when the workshop is done. Are you going to be okay with the kids?" "we'll be fine." he said. I slipped into the Black Block building for a rich experience that will forever change my perspective about copy writing, words, language and memoirs.
The Black Block building was modern, clean and contemporary. Glass and granite, juxtaposed with brick and rod iron. A stark contrast from the down-the-street scene of needles, shopping carts, dirty faces and desperation.
I was late, but Kelly addressed me by name. "Hi Courtenay." I could tell who she was. She has very bright eyes. Curled eyelashes. Her students were around an Ikea-like white pine round boardroomesque table. Leaning into her. Some of them had chins on hands, like lovestruck teenagers. All women in their mid-thirties, early forties. Except two men. Young men. I think one was an Engineer. He seemed nice. Asian fellow. A white guy, kind of good-looking but a little annoying, kept asking Kelly about vulnerability. "Have you ever been too scared to post anything." He was either echoing his fears or trying to find cracks in her veneer. Either way, he bugged me. She handled him well, no getting defensive with his questions. He was verging on playing mind-games.
I noticed that no one was really taking notes. Maybe I missed the beginning where she told everyone that she would send them a copy of the presentation. I did arrive 15 minutes late. I hate being so rude.
Her workshop had me on the edge of my seat. But, I've learned from many failed university tests to take notes, even when I'm mesmerized. Here is my interpretation of Kelly's wisdom:
1) Grocery lists, emails, SMS messages and bank line-ups can all be inspiration for stories. Keep an audio recorder (I use my iphone) handy and record your thoughts. Take ideas from your daily interaction with people. Be constantly thinking about writing. Jot your ideas down so you'll have them for when you are ready to write.
2) Form a habit for writing. Take the time to sit down at the computer and give it the hairy eyeball until something comes to you. Like meditation is to yoga, ritual is to writing. Make it a daily ritual or habit. Give yourself permission to carve out time for it so it gets easier.
3) Don't expect Perfection. "Your skills will always fall short of your vision." Kelly says. Just write and see what comes of it. If you wait for perfection, it will lead to procrastination. Near perfection comes with practice. It's an art, a craft. Pursue it with diligence.
4) Don't wait for inspiration, go after it with a club. Consistency, communication, conversation, being open to engage in ideas, finding like-minded people, reading inspiring blogs, reading about writing structure and reading poetry will give you new ways of expression.
5) Write personal. Kelly calls this "emotional resonance." Weave your story into the article or piece you are writing. Your story is unique and universal. Kelly says, "it's emblematic of our time". Your story may seem boring to you, but it is really interesting to someone else in another place. In the future, the story you write today will seem very fresh: a new perspective or experience for the reader. Sometimes the story you write may make you feel vulnerable. Take a risk. Articulate the silence.
6) Make sentences surprising. Show, don't tell. Avoid cliches. Stop using dying or worn-out metaphors. Find another way to say something so it becomes interesting. Reverse the way you say something. (She used the example "hopeful cars and V8 hearts".) Remove the words "just" and "very". Describe the tiny details. (ie: "She hit me on the crown of my human head." instead of saying "She hit me on the head.") Start with one feeling and end with another. Contrast black with white, or sweet with sour (ie: ice cream with black pepper).
7) Fully explore a word. Uncover its meaning. "Riff on it." Kelly says. Deconstruct it. Learn its etymology. Roll it around on your tongue. Rhyme it. Examine the perceptions it invokes. Is it spiritual or practical? (Like Danielle LaPorte). Come at it from all angles and connotations. Add some flavour to your words with Virtual Salt. Check out YouTube for Def jam poetry. (Like this Jamie Foxx video.)
8) Use the basics. Get someone to edit for you. Read a piece aloud before you publish it. Stop using emoticons. Drop adverbs. Spellcheck.
9) Revive English-in-high-school tricks and find more. Amplification: repeat a word and phrase over and over to emphasize it. Understatement: flatly describe a fraught topic (Penelope Trunk). Hyperbole: imaginative but over-the-top. "Be extravagant and make shit up." Kelly says. Deliberately embrace run-ons and fragments. Insert conversation or something unexpected. Engage the senses - smell - touch - taste. Use cheezy hip-hop videos to find creative phrases. (ie: "I'll make your bedrock.") Or Hamlet (ie: "I'll speak daggers to her.").
10) Get intimate with voice. Mimic someone for a while. Get into their style. Develop new tools, new feeling and a new repertoire by learning how to write like someone else.
After the workshop, I slipped passed a group of Asian sailor boys dressed in their white navy uniforms down Cambie Street to find my husband and kids sitting in the truck licking icecream and just as happy as can be. While I was in my workshop, they toured Robson Street. As it turns out, my oldest son loved people watching. He really liked Vancouver. It truly is an amazing city.
If you ever get the opportunity to take one of Kelly Diel's writing workshops, I highly recommend it. In the first twenty minutes, I felt I got my money's worth. The next 100 minutes were a bonus.
Where do you get inspiration for writing your blog, stories, marketing pieces, poetry or general memoirs? I would love to hear from you. Please leave a comment at my blog at http://www.vernongirl.com.
Thanks for reading.
Courtenay Pitcher, aspiring writer
Follow me on Twitter: http://twitter.com/vernongirl