Tuesday, July 12, 2011


I’m re-reading Writing Down the Bones to get myself pumped about the practice of writing. That word — practice — has been bothering me lately. I think my disgust is at least one part laziness and another naivety. What I mean by that is that when I see someone soar — in their element, doing their thing — I fail to acknowledge all they hours they put into it. I assume they take the stage and magic hits. So many artists, writers, athletes, performers, etc., when they tell their stories, recount how they’ve been doing whatever it is they do since they were born, or so it seems. Born to do what they do. Somehow I hear this and mistake their lifetime of practice for a mysterious gift. The truth is that it is some gift and a whole lot of practice, at least in most cases.

In Writing Down the Bones, the author suggests practice is like composting. As we add material to our pile, turn it over and apply heat, we develop a rich soil that will nourish the growth of new things. This was a helpful metaphor for me for a few reasons:

  • If the same idea comes again and again, it doesn’t mean I lack creativity; it’s a thought that needs turning and time.
  • Lots of different materials can be thrown into the pile — in fact, the more, the better. Even if it seems like trash.
  • “Understanding this process cultivates patience and produces less anxiety.” Author’s words.
  • My practice isn’t wasted. It is enriching the soil and making my writing fertile.

Along these lines, I’ve been feeling the need for more material for my pile -- or rather, the ability to recognize it. A full day in a downtown office can leave me feeling as sterile as the building I work in, my thoughts as monotonous as the offices filled with identical furniture, and as emptied as the streets here after 7pm (this is downtown Los Angeles, after all… some cafes here don’t even open on the weekends!). So I’m brainstorming ways to add to my pile. I made a short list to remind myself of where I find inspiration:

  • Being outside
  • Watching movies
  • Reading magazines, especially thoughtful ones
  • Museums
  • Being quiet
  • Poetry
  • The beach
  • Conversations with people, and especially meeting new people
  • Making collages, or other things, with my hands
  • Hearing about other people’s childhoods
  • New music; live music
  • bookstores and stationary shops
  • And (let's be honest) coffee helps!
Update: more inspiration:
  • playing with children
  • thoughtful interviews
  • NPR
  • looking at the stars

And now I turn to you, dear readers: How do you find material to nourish your craft or your life? Please share anything and everything! Let’s get some piles turning.

Another update: You can find the reading from the book here.


  1. Hi Betsy,
    I've been taking notice to ways that artists find inspiration lately. Just this morning I read about how artist Chery Warrick does "color mining" here: http://cherylwarrickillustration.blogspot.com/2011/06/colormining-with-cocoa.html
    and then, you've probably heard of Adele Emerson, but she often posts about where she gets inspiration for her everyday type of house adventures. Here are two examples:
    and http://milasdaydreams.blogspot.com/2011/06/nursery-cherry-blossom-chandelier.html.
    Happy times of inspiration!

  2. Hey Leslie! Didn't know that you're a reader -- welcome! And thanks for those posts... In some ways it seems that inspiration isn't only about where you find it, but about being open to what's available (like in these posts that you shared). Also -- love the color mining. Creature Comforts also does that, and it reminds me to look more closely (she sees color I would have overlooked).

  3. Hey Bets!

    Love this post! I agree that when we hear of others' accomplishments, that we don't often hear about all of the hours of practice and all of the struggle that helped them to get where they are. Practicing something is not typically very glamorous or exciting. Anyway, I wanted to add "exploring a city" or "exploring my city" to your inspiration list (at least I think you find that inspirational) and to offer my children as inspiration - I'd love to have them play with you for a while!!

  4. Hey Lori, yes exploring cities is definitely one to add. And your kids always inspire (and say really interesting and unexpected things... I still laugh when I think of asking Andrew if there's anything he thinks about but doesn't share and he immediately came out with "cookies!").