Our everyday lives are an abundant source of creative ideas in the form of people, places, locations and experiences. However, when it comes to using this ‘primary source’ of information, many people find it difficult to distance themselves from the ‘physicality’ of the object, event or the person – getting too caught up in the detail – and the telling – of who said what or what happened. This is fine for a police report or something that has to be accurately detailed but when it comes to creativity or writing fiction you need to stand back and see the infinite possibilities.
When it comes to working with writers on their memoir, the challenge for the ‘subject’ is always the same. Turning everyday events or facts into a story with a message. This requires the subject to move back – to move away from the events that ‘happened to them’ and try to see the broader message, the take-aways for the audience or the metaphor.
Memoir by its very nature is about transformation – so the protagonist (subject) has to start off at point A and embark on the journey to get to point C. Like everyone else I love a good memoir, but a good memoir isn’t just about ‘He said’, ‘She said’, ‘I did this’, ‘The end’.
My favourite Australian writers are always the ones that paint a picture of a location – whether it’s the climate or landscape. In fact, Tim Winton evokes Australian Landscape so effortlessly it becomes a ‘character’ in his books from the thirsty salt plains to the turbulent surf. It’s a testament to his skill as a writer that he takes everyday experiences of his environment and gives them form, personality and a character arc of their own.
I myself was born and brought up in Scotland, so for me the use of the landscapes and the weather are devices I use ‘creatively’ not just in my writing but in the colours I surround myself with. In the studio here I have painted the walls a Scandinavian limewash and ‘Norwegian Dusk’ floorboards because these are the colours of my childhood. I remember the sea and sky both meeting on a horizon of steely greys and silvers and while it chilled me to the bone as a child, I find it calming and cooling in the hotter climes of Australia. You can evoke such a range of emotions and sensations with wind, rain, snow or oppressive heat without ever saying ‘I was stressed’ or ‘I was feeling listless. You can evoke a feeling of loneliness and fear by being the only person climbing Ben Nevis, clinging on to the steely grey, granite rockface by your fingertips
Keeping the focus in Scotland just for a moment longer, Mendelssohn was inspired to compose ‘Hebrides Overture’ after a visit to the awe-inspiring Fingal’s Cave on the island of Staffa on Scotland’s Hebrides islands. The cave itself is a Basalt Sea cave so the formation itself is rather inspiring, reminiscent of a huge church organ – and yet the notes played are from the swell of the sea surging in and out and crashing on the rocks. If you close your eyes and listen to this piece of music I guarantee each of your senses will thank you and transport you to the sea.
Landscapes or weather may be a good place for you to start, particularly if you wish to write or create but you just can’t push past whatever it is that’s blocking you. Using a writing ‘prompt’ such as location or weather is useful because you can release all pressure to come up with the ‘idea’. You begin to realise how easy it is to overlook your surroundings and yet everyone’s surroundings (and the way we interact with them) are so unique. Even if you have been stuck in a one-roomed flat for the duration of the pandemic, you have a location – you are in your own personal landscape. And if you don’t know what the weather is like outside – well that’s the beginning of a story in itself.
Whether you live for the surf or to ‘bag a Munro’, whether you live in a bedsit or a penthouse apartment, take a moment to observe your surroundings. Go out in the street in your neighbourhood and take it all in. Take a notepad and pen and use your senses to listen to the sounds, smell the air, watch the people or look at the details in the architecture. Are the buildings typical to this area? Are there any historical buildings? Or are they grey and drab and lifeless?
Is it warm or cold? Dry or raining? What is the weather like typically at this time of year?
What type of story could you imagine being set here? If your location and weather were people, what sort of characters would they be? Cold and distant? Empty? Passionate and wild? Perhaps you have seen someone out on your walk. Did they spark your imagination?
You can continue to do this whenever you are lacking in creative ideas. You will soon find you want to keep writing when you return home – or you may just have figured out a new character or plot point – using location or the weather as a metaphor.