Chewing the Creative Cud

We found our house in midwinter, a sugar topped cookie on a plate of white butter cream, number 19 on our list of showings. When we closed in late April, the daffodils were up in cliquish seclusion, the old man trees were still barren stalks, and the perimeters near the back left to interpretation. We were just discovering the masses of overgrown gardens uncovered since the melt.

That first year, we left the gardens to thrive as they had done, perennial jungles strangled by creeping charlie, clover, pink mallow and prickers. The next spring I was pregnant and digging like a mad dog trying to control the girth of nature. After the baby was born and it was spring once again, I tore apart the left side of the front walk determined to grow a place for us. Now, six years and two babies in, the yard and dirt and greens make me cringe as we pass gingerbread Victorians carefully laced and so finely coiffed.

On walks I memorize landscapes.

I find it so easy to traipse all over writing, to feel the need to squeeze words like toothpaste from a tube every second the girls give me to myself. It’s easy to forget the bigger face of the creative process–rumination.

Rumination is where ideas take hold, often while we’re focused on other tasks. This is why we hear of great thinkers taking long walks, sitting meditation and planting gardens. Our minds are terrific escape artists, able to turn the tumblers of one lock while diverting our attentions to a greater distraction. Magic.

I read once that Alice Smith writes her songs at inappropriate times, while washing dishes or cutting vegetables. Creativity is a slight of hand. A shell game.

In order to create we need to feed the mind, ruminate, chew our mental cud.

I have holes to dig and a gym membership screaming for attention. There are flowers to plant, buckets of dirt to haul and children in bad need of a chase. Few things feel as satisfying as hard physical work, writing an inspired memoir is one of them.

Tell me, how do you feed your creative mind?


About E. Victoria Flynn

E. Victoria Flynn is a mother and a writer living in Southern Wisconsin. Published in a variety of venues, Victoria is currently writing the first in a series of three fantasy novels based on Cornish folklore. When not taking part in a shrieking dance party or engrossed in her own little fictions, Victoria is keen on art, the natural world and people unafraid to explore their own brilliance.
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20 Responses to Chewing the Creative Cud

  1. Melanie says:

    Wonderful post. Just discovered your blog awhile ago. I love it. I, too, am a mother and a writer, trying to strike that balance between motherhood and writing.

    How do I feed my creative mind? I go for coffee on Saturday mornings and I sit alone in my SUV facing the mountains and think. I do the same when I’m parked at my son’s school, waiting to pick him up. The SUV has become the place where creative ideas are formed.

    • pennyjars says:

      Melanie, I’m so glad you found the blog. I have a great appreciation for Mother Writers–see, I capitalize them!

      I love how our minds take what ever quiet space we allow and run like thieves. Saturday morning coffee is my idea of paradise.

  2. Beautiful post; I really enjoyed reading…

  3. Apparently Anwar Sadat used to take two hours every afternoon, walking his gardens and meditating on matters of state. I think this is similar to what you are saying. For myself I am inspired by everyday life and the things people do (or don’t do.) Everything is definately fodder. I have learned to carry a notebook and pen with me everywhere so that if I do want to write something down the resources are there.

    • pennyjars says:

      Elizabeth, I found myself sitting in a doctor’s office waiting room without a notebook or even a piece of paper. Of course, I had been going through a terrible case of Lackus Inspirationus at the time and *poof* there it was in the waiting room. Lucky for me they had a coloring book handy. I hope you fill your notebooks to capacity and then some. May your pen never run dry!

  4. Sweepy Jean says:

    Lovely post and great reminder. I can relate. I love gardening, such as it is when you live in an apartment. This year, I’m trying to grow sunflowers in my planter. On a regular basis, my creative energizer is sitting in a bathtub full of very warm water. I can stay there for hours. My mind unravels there and all the connections become obvious, or so it seems. I adore pretty-smelling beads, crystals, or shower gel.

    • pennyjars says:

      Sweepy, the bath is so necessary, though I shrivel about half an hour in. I can’t tell you how many Throw me posts would have been abandoned had it not been for hot, hot steam.

      I love that you’re growing sunflowers in planting pots! I was considering giving them a try this year, but I don’t think I have enough constant sun to give them what they need. Please tell me how your experiment works out.

  5. Christine says:

    I loved this post!

    The photo of your daughter is lovely. And Alice Smith’s song is so earthy.

    Rumination is hard when you have little ones. One of my favorite cartoons shows a mom in a bathroom. Her fairy godmother grants her one wish. The mom asks for time alone in the bathroom. The fairy godmother asks, “Wouldn’t you rather have a new car or [insert name of good-looking actor].” The mom replies, “They wouldn’t fit.”

    Some of my best times to think are on walks, washing dishes, in the shower, or on long car trips by myself. I love gardening, too, but I never seem to dig in the dirt long enough for more than fleeting ideas to form. I always carry a notebook in my purse, but I never thought to do what my friend Alyssa did–jot down ideas gained while watching an arthouse movie. I tried to follow Alyssa’s example but couldn’t see well enough in semi darkness.

    Beautiful essay, Victoria!

    • pennyjars says:

      Christine, that cartoon is so true! Lately Azy’s been offering to keep me company, as if I get lonely in the loo. I suppose she does being fairly new to the process.

      I think you hit on most of the classic inspirational moments. I started writing while making lunch, something about the chopping perhaps. I don’t think I could write to an art movie either, at least, in all that I’ve seen, I’ve never found that inspiration. Live music, I can write to that.

  6. Catherine says:

    How do I feed my creative mind….

    Well, reading and lots of writing exercises/prompts. I find that when I do both of those things, I tend to get in the zone. That’s one of my goals for the summer (since I’m not teaching as much) is to find my creativity again–starting with writing exercises from some books I have.

    • pennyjars says:

      Hi, Catherine! I imagine teaching would take up a lot of the energy you would otherwise use for writing. How nice it must be to have that change in the summer to focus again.

  7. We feed our creative minds with snacks, but you know that! 🙂
    We found this to be a luscious line, “On walks I memorize landscapes.”
    For us, we find that making lists or using prompts or saying something like “what’s in this characters closet?” and then we both sit and write to describe it, that helps us get going and dig deeper into our characters, scenes, etc.

    • pennyjars says:

      “What’s in this characters closet?” I like that, things I don’t consider thinking about since most of what I’m writing now is memoir, but a really great way to get in the head of your characters. In a way, I write similar to that with specific I Remember prompts. It amazes me how much clearer things become after a quick write.

  8. Love this post. This is where I’ll be this weekend: I have holes to dig and a gym membership screaming for attention. There are flowers to plant, buckets of dirt to haul and children in bad need of a chase.

    You know, I fed my creative mind a few days ago at Rebecca Rasmussen’s reading. I left the house early, set out dinner ingredients but left Dad to put them together. I bought myself a yummy-yum salad, a hot coffee, and scratched down ideas for scenes (for “the novel”) on notecards. I reminded myself that any idea was worth recording.

    Then, I walked into the bookstore, surrounded myself with novels of all kinds, and listened to Rebecca read from hers. It was just what I needed.

    • pennyjars says:

      Christi, both of those things sound fantastic. Today the weather was not great, but earlier in the week I left the house to its chaos and we played outside for hours–the girls in water and sand and I pulling weeds. I also put this theory into practice ruminating on the next blog post, though I’m not sure it did that much good. 🙂

  9. So many great images in this post. Loved, “a sugar topped cookie on a plate of white butter cream” — beautiful and YUM!

    I feed my creative mind by reading posts like these, and books that take my breath away. And, sometimes, I even venture outside…

    • pennyjars says:

      I love books that take my breath away, the ones that make me cry they are so beautiful and laugh they are so brilliant. Do you have a favorite book that inspires you above all others? My tastes change so drastically over time.

  10. REscarcega says:

    Quiet times do it for me. Waking to the open curtains presenting the tree leaves in motion with the never-ending open sky sourounding the view. This being the only minutes of peace I’ve been afforded lately.

    I once was hit over the head with the muse hammer while walking to my car in the dark wee hours of morn. I looked up and the darkened skies held the brightest stars I’d ever seen in forever. I actually stood in the middle of the street and slowly spun to take it all in. A Sci-Fi short story came out of that one.

    Thanks for the usual great read. 🙂

    • pennyjars says:

      I love those moments–the light on early mornings before the whole house wakes and unexpected night time inspiration. I find a cold, still winter night can do amazing things.

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