Aside from a writer’s muse that never sleeps, I’m used to finding #writerinspiration from mostly colorful photographs and art from a variety of sites. I post the ones I like on my Twitter feed and Facebook page. My favorite place for royalty-free photos without restrictions is Unsplash.com. Two of my boards on Pinterest – Searching for Light, and Characters, are both galleries of art and photographs used to fine tune the muse when I’m writing scenes.
This past Memorial Day weekend, I went on a desert excursion with my son-in-law in his off-road 4Runner. That my young grandson tagged along as well, made the trip extra special.
But – we were talking about writer inspiration.
How does one go from a visual inspiration of a colorful marketplace …
… and find inspiration in the homogeneity of a desert landscape?
First, you need to get off the beaten track, and into places most vehicles can’t tread. That’s where I discovered it isn’t the visual so much, as it is – the silence.
A critical attribute of a good story incorporates the five senses. If you take one of them away, it evokes an unusual deprivative enlightenment where the other senses become more focused.
Sense of smell was limited to whatever drifted in the dry, searing heat. Consigned to the tacky flavorlessness of cotton-mouth, water offered no relief to the taste buds. Skin puckered from the unrelenting sun with a reminder to reapply lotion, I was sensitized to the touch of a tiny insect, or the haphazard brush against brambles.
Discovery of micro-sounds subdued by the cacophony of everyday life, become loud as a truck horn (bit of a stretch maybe, and I made-up the word micro-sound, but you get the point). The skittering of a bug on a rock. The faint rush of a hot dry breeze through spindly desert bushes. Each footstep a thundering dinosaur plod, until I have to break the silence to ask my grandson to slow down with a voice muted by a carpet of sand.
Too late for the short flowering season, colors of rust, sand, and dusty-green shrubs dominated the palette, interrupted on occasion by layered sedimentary rock. I found a spot to sit and took in my surroundings. My eyesight slowly accentuated (though it helped to wear sunglasses). The russet browns became less monochromatic to reveal surprises otherwise missed. Recent animal prints and tiny corkscrewing snake trails had yet to be erased by a never-ending desert breath. Eyes on the ground, small rewards appeared with a late season flower hidden by a scraggly briar. A lone bullet shell offered evidence that others had passed this way.
Normally I write in the solitude of the man-cave, a basement office devoid of windows. Just me, the radon, and a background disquiet of household sounds that resonate like a drum. Let’s not even mention the damn phone or doorbell.
Heightened awareness inside a desert silence kicked my muse into hyper drive. Ideas flash-carded so fast in my head, some hitch-hiked the winds of forgetfulness. Hell of a place to be caught without a notebook.
Desirous to remain longer, the siren call of my grandson pulled me back to the present. He took my hand and led me back to the 4Runner.
On another visit, my 4Runner guide took a little-used trail that most vehicles would find daunting (not to mention stuck in the sand). We climbed reddish sandstone rocks, and rock etchings inside a deep, natural wash carved by the eons, was another reminder of others who had passed this way a long, long time ago. A story of human existence lost came to mind, and piqued curiosity of what inspired the petroglyph artist.
Back in the noisy pandemonium of civilization, after the senses reestablished equilibrium, a few of those ideas that had dissipated in an arid desert whiff, somehow eddied back into my thoughts. I closed my eyes in a quiet room, and let recent memories of desert inspiration come to life.
So … if your muse is locked in the prison of writer’s block, find someplace where sound is the lesser input, and let the other senses open your eyes, and inspire the imagination.
Note: All pictures from Hidden Valley Nevada by DT Krippene, except colorful marketplace by Sam Beasley of Unsplash.com.