Looks like winter is over here in Arizona, though I’m not sure it was ever here except for a couple of weeks of cold and frost. Just enough to decimate my backyard landscaping. We hit 82 degrees yesterday. Since the morning started out at 45 degrees, I wore three different outfits, ending up in shorts when I took the kids to the pool for a bit.
Fire season has also started in the mountains north of us. Apparently we’ve had so little rain, the moisture content of the trees is equivalent to what it would normally be in July. One unexpected difficulty of fighting forest fires in February is that it still gets down to about ten degrees in the mountains at night. So the reservoirs and lakes the firefighters would normally use for water are frozen.
Orange County, California—where my current series is set—has also been fighting brush fires pretty early this year. In an eerie coincidence, they just contained a fire awfully close to the location of the fire that opens my second book in the series.
All this has me thinking I’m going to have a lot of inspiration for my writing this spring. Since last summer I’ve been playing around with the idea of creating an environment to trigger my muse into waking up and getting to work each time I sit down at the keyboard. It started with listening to an RWA conference CD in which someone, I think Tara Taylor Quinn, talked about writing from the five senses. I was bogged down in the middle of my first book, so I was looking for anything to jumpstart the old muse. At that point, I was leaning toward a defibrillator. So here’s what I did.
For sight, I got some foam core board and put it above my desk. I mocked-up a cover for the book and pasted it in the center. Then I filled in the rest of the white space with pictures of my characters, photos of the setting, and my ten, twenty, and fifty word blurbs. I’d heard of writers doing this. Some walk into the craft store and start picking up stuff that just seems like their book whether it makes sense or not. I wish I could afford to do that as I think it’d be a fun thing to do. I haven’t done this yet for book two, as I don’t think I know enough about it to start making visual representations. But I have been collecting pictures and putting them in an album in iPhoto. I also think objects that remind you of your characters or things in your book would be helpful. I’m thinking of stealing one of my son’s fire engines.
Smell was the easy one. I wanted something that smelled like the ocean. So I wandered around the craft store until I found Marine Mist. It doesn’t smell exactly like the ocean—it’s missing the dead fish and rotting seaweed component—but it’s evocative of the beach. Oddly enough, I think this cue has worked the best. The moment I open the candle (it has a lid) I think of Kyle and Heather. And the flame is a signal to my family that I’m writing, so don’t bother me.
For book two, I wondered if I should use the same scent or something different. I spent sometime thinking about what it should be. Joe, hero of book two, is a firefighter, and so I thought something that smelled like a campfire would remind me off him. No, burnt toast doesn’t qualify. But, I thought roasted marshmallows might. Of course with the way fire season is going this year, I’ll probably just have to write outside to be filled with ambiance. After sniffing a bunch of candles, I decided Tahitian Vanilla smelled a lot like roasted marshmallows. I haven’t burned it yet, so I’m hoping it works as well as the Marine Mist. Gotta love those cheesy names.
Touch was kind of a weird one because I’m mostly touching my keyboard. But I thought maybe for those times I’m not typing, a bowl of sea glass might provide some tactile stimulation. I don’t know if it works, but I like playing with it when I’m supposed to be working.
Sound is a difficult one for me. I can’t listen to music while I write, even classical music or soundtracks. I start humming along, directing the orchestra, making up silly lyrics to the songs. I am so easily distracted. The other day, though, I saw a whole CD of beach sounds. So I got it and played it while I was doing edits on my first book. It didn’t distract me. Whether it helped, or just made me have to go to the bathroom more often, I don’t know.
Finally, taste. According to the workshop I listened to, mint is supposed to make your mind sharper and help you concentrate. To me, that sounds like a good excuse to stock up on Peppermint Patties. Because chocolate can only improve mint, right?
Whether any of these things actually make me a better writer, I don’t know. However, they can be fun things to play around with to see if they light a fire under your muse. And as long as you don’t use them to procrastinate (do as I say, not as I do), they can’t hurt. Well, unless you forget about the candle and burn your house down. Or eat too many Peppermint Patties and your butt gets so big you can’t fit in your chair.
Oh never mind.
Feel free to share what has sparked your muse.