Writing Prompt Serendipity

Coffee beans, an unexpected writing promptWriting Prompt Serendipity

Sometimes writing prompts show up just when we need them. They come from out of the blue and make our day.

My Morning Routine

On a normal day, I wake up at 5 and start to write. This way my body is going before my brain catches up and starts to over think. I find it helps me produce a greater amount of work that’s at a higher quality.

Today, my routine was different. I awoke at 3:45am, got ready, and went up to Franklin to attend 5 Club with Jon Acuff and a group of incredible people. You can find more about 5 Club on John’s blog. Trust me, it’s well worth the extra early alarm. I’m stunned by the connections that happen when you get a room full of people willing to do the outrageous and necessary work to chase their dream. It’s truly amazing.

Since I started my 5am routine six months ago, I’ve found that I look forward to, crave, that creative time of writing each day. I missed it this morning and my day felt a little bit off.

The Surprise Writing Prompt

I did a quick scan of Facebook when I got home and there was a surprise prompt waiting for me. I’m involved in a local writing group (more on that another time, it’s awesome) and in our Facebook group another writer challenged everyone with this,

 Write a short poem about words in a cup or coming out of a cup.

Here’s what I came up with.

I tried to stuff my words into the bottom of a cup
But the more I stuffed them down
The more trouble bubbled up
I took a taste of trouble and liked what I had found
My words were better steeped together
Like whole beans freshly ground

It’s just a few lines, thought up in the moment. But that little push towards creativity filled in an entire morning’s worth of writing. It pushed me back into normal and fulfilled my need of routine.

What little surprises along the way have pushed you and helped you to create?

Inspiration and Influence: Who Do You Follow?

A source of inspiration

Book of Nonsense by Edward Lear

Finding Inspiration

I spend a fair amount of time looking at the creative works of others, it inspires me. I’ve never fully ID’d what I write, is it poetry, kids’ poetry? I don’t know. I’ve alway considered it fun, some people would call it nonsense. While looking for some “nonsense” poetry, I came across “A Book of Nonsense” by Edward Lear. I’d never heard of Lear, so I was thrilled to see there was a book filled with nonsense poems. The work is almost entirely a collection of limericks. It’s not what I write, but a form I appreciate. I was excited to find that Lear wrote these over 150 years ago. Call me naive but I thought everyone was dead serious back then.

My Influences and Inspiration

150 years surprised me. My influences to date have been from the past 50 years. Obviously, Shel Silverstein is a major influence on my work. I consider him to be a creative genius. My other influences include Berkley Breathed and Bill Watterson. To me, they’re what inspiration should be. When I read their work, my mind is opened to a new world of possibilities. They’re cartoonists and how they express themselves may come across as nonsense, but they often touch on serious cultural issues. That’s what I love, something simple and entertaining that says a lot. Not being serious takes down our guard. It allows us to approach subjects in new ways. It’s not the heady approach that makes me admire them. It’s the fact they’re having fun. To me, that’s what writing is, it’s fun. My goal is to enjoy the process of writing and to be entertained by what I write. My influences have helped shape me this way.

Inspiration Is Influence

If I had never read Bloom County or Calvin and Hobbes, if I didn’t know where the sidewalk ends, my writing would be entirely different than it is today. In fact, I don’t know if I’d be writing at all. My sense of humor was formed by Breathed, Watterson, and Silverstein. As a kid I read them over and over again. I’d recite them and if I could work one of their punchlines into a conversation, I would. Of course their work had already seeded my imagination, and eventually I started to write my own work while imitating their style. I aspired to be like them. Art that inspires us, influences us. Now I’m writing my own work and finding my own voice. Am I still inspired and influenced by my heroes? Absolutely. I can only hope to one day become the inspiration that they are.


Ideas and Productivity

Ideas and Productivity

Ideas and Productivity

How do you capture ideas and prevent them from highjacking your creativity?

Ideas drain my productivity. I love ideas, good ones, bad ones, and all those little mediocre ones that run in between. Ideas are great because they’re fresh, they’re new, and they offer the promise of something great. Ideas are exciting and impulsive, you can’t ignore them. They’ll also poke you to death if you let them.

The Distraction

I find the more that I write, the more ideas pour into my head. This becomes a distraction. I want to play with the new ideas and see what they can grow into. In the meantime my old idea, the one I’m working on, gets neglected. If I were to fall into this cycle of behavior, I’d end up with a list of ideas and a couple of projects or pieces that are left undone.

Idea Time

I have a solution that works pretty well for me. I give myself time for ideas. That’s it, an isolated time when all I do is list ideas and allow myself to freeflow all the concepts that come to me. During this time I write everything down. I don’t play with them during my idea time, it’s a period of dreaming and recording. I know that I have time set aside where I will take one off the list and play with it. In my work time I don’t play with all the ideas that hit me, I only focus on one.

Being Pragmatic

Where does this leave me with ideas that come to me outside of my idea time or inside of my work time? Again the answer is simple. I write the ideas down. I carry with me a pocket sized notebook and I write it in there. If I’m at the computer or plugged in otherwise, I use Evernote to capture the idea. These stray ideas don’t get any attention other than being listed. I’m then able to review the lists and catalog them during my idea time. This keeps my head clear and allows me to focus on the work I need to do.

photo credit: moleitau via photopin cc

My Pet Zombie

I have a pet zombie penned up in the yard,
Because he’s a zombie I’m always on guard.
He tries to climb out by ascending the drains.
He wants to roam all about and scavenge for brains.

He’s slightly decayed and he is rather smelly.
His eyes are like spoonfuls of shiny black jelly.
His jaw hangs down low and wobbles around.
He walks with a limp and drags a leg on the ground.

I wanted to try and teach him to fetch,
At first he did nothing then he started to retch.
He let out a moan and his shoulder popped out,
He grunted and groaned a zombie-like shout.

My zombie’s not one who likes to play games,
But he comes over if called by one of his names.
His skin’s falling off and he’s starting to rot
And one little sore is now a big spot.

I believe he is sick from the the way that he looks,
His condition’s not found in the medical books.
I wish there was something I could do for my pet
But the last time I tried he devoured the vet.

-Chris Gates

Clever Trevor

Clever Trevor took on an endeavor
To sail a ship to shore
The poor boy was misguided
On the rocks he collided
And Trevor is sailing no more

-Chris Gates

The Butterfly Bush

The butterfly bush in the garden next door,
Houses a troll who is beginning to snore.
I knocked him out and he dropped into sleep.
He won’t try again to eat all my sheep.

-Chris Gates

Midnight Mountain

There’s a mountain to climb in my backyard,
I’ve tried to before but the climb is too hard.
You can’t see the mountain but it really is there,
Just follow my gaze when I look out and stare.

It does show itself, sometimes at night,
It’s just past the tree, a bit to the right.
It’s a black rocky slope that climbs to the sky.
I only make it halfway each time I try.

By then it’s the morning, the sun it breaks through,
The slopes get all slippery, covered in dew.
I slide back on down as the mount fades away.
It’s a good exercise to kick off my day.

Someday I’ll make it, all the way to the peak,
Maybe tomorrow, maybe next week.
I’m not all that sure and I really don’t care,
I’m just happy to know there’s a mountain out there.

-Chris Gates

Don’t Squint

Don’t Squint

When I squinted my eyes,
They rolled back in my head.
I was worried by things
that Esther had said.

She said, “Please don’t squint,
it’s not good for you.
You’ll suck in your eyes
like my poor Uncle Lou.”

“They fell past his nose
and got lodged in his throat.
When he wanted to talk
he’d pass us a note.

He could no longer see.
He could no longer talk.
His throat-eyes would rattle
with each step that he’d walk.”

I was worried Lou’s fate
would happen to me.
So I opened my eyes,
Alas! I could see!

I happened to notice
the ground seemed more near.
My eyes indeed fell,
all the way to my rear.

-Chris Gates

Writing Productivity: A Change in Routine

My Writing Routine

The routine of writing is a conversation topic regularly found in writing circles. How do you go about the task of getting your words onto paper? I’ve personally entered this conversation eighty-seven times, but it’s only twenty-four if you count the times I thought we were discussing some Zeppelin lyrics and went off on a tangent.  The reality is seasoned and novice writers alike find themselves discussing the issue of routine and productivity.

A Need for Change

This past fall I made one big change with my writing habits and it’s paying off. I’m more productive than I was before and I have a stack a paper to back it up. It wasn’t a drastic change, it was a simple choice. For over twenty years I always did a large portion of my creative work at night. I’d stay up until I wasn’t sure of my own name and then I’d work even harder. Or so was my perception of the situation. The truth is, I’d stay up late but wasn’t getting a fair output for the hours I spent working. Along the way I heard, read, got the notion, that for most people their creativity and productivity decrease throughout the day. I also noticed I was heavily distracted by the events of the day during the night. I spent a lot of time in correspondence and that was keeping me away from writing.

Increased Writing Productivity

So I tried something new. I started to get up in the five-o’clock hour. Morning that is. And what happened? Those first couple hours of the day are spent writing with a brief interruption to make coffee. During that time, I’m writing more words per minute than ever before. Sure, some of it is non-sense and an exercise in just getting something down. But, even with those hatched sheets of fluff, I’m still producing more work than in the past. I’m happy with it too, my writing productivity is up and the quality of my work is increasing as well. Sometimes a little change is all it takes to make a big difference.


My Shoe

I found that my shoe can walk on its own.
It can laugh, leap, and run and talk on the phone.
I didn’t think shoes were such a big deal,
But this one is changing the way that I feel.

-Chris Gates