Friday, April 08, 2011

For the Love of Research: How a Few Hours Can Improve Your Poems & Create Inspiration

So yesterday I took a 30 minute drive out of my small town to go to our big non-indie bookstore, not to buy books, but to do some research for my book.  I'm leaving for a weeklong writing residency and I find it better to do as much research for my next book (and poems) before I'm there, so I can spend my time writing and not researching info.

You might be asking why I didn't go to our local library to research.

I love my library and in fact, it is so small town, I don't even need my library card to checkout anything out there, but it is so tiny (it's so tiny you have to turn around to change your mind...)  However, I do plan on visiting my library and doing this again, this was just the beginning of the research, of finding inspiration and muse.

So this time, I went to the chain store where all the books are shiny and new.

I didn't have a full plan of what I was doing except going to the section on books about art, photography, crafts, design, etc., to see what interested me.  I pulled about 5 books off of the shelf that looked interesting--a book on graffiti art, a book on 50 Modern Painters you should know, a book about women's art studios, a book about the Book of Kells, and a book on collage.

I pulled out my trusty notebook, which is dedicated to my next book and its poems (something I recommend- keep one dedicated notebook for whatever big project you are working on, Twyla Tharp also recommends keeping a box devoted to your project) and I started writing lines, facts, or info from these books that interested me.

I did this for two hours, only taking a break to get coffee and eat a granola bar.

Time went by so quickly.  I kept browsing through the books and becoming more and more inspired to write poems.

When I finished searching the books, I'd put them back (so not to create more work for the nice employees there) and find a few more to browse through.  I didn't censor what I wrote down, even if I didn't know what I would do with the lines or info, I just kept writing and taking notes.

When I was done, I had quite a few pages of notebook filled with images, direct quotes, ideas, facts, and anything that caught my attention.  I have no idea what I will do with any of these or if I will do anything with them.  But I have them to bring with me on my writing retreat.

Some other things I notice--

This big commercial bookstore (whose initials are the same as "Big Nuisance") has taken out all but two of their comfy chairs, and the two chairs they do have are placed right near the register, so they can keep an eye on you to make sure you're not overstaying your welcome.  (I had a comfy chair for the first hour then lost it when I went to get more books.)

There were extra chairs in the Starbucks cafe, but then had to listen to man talk about his rat problem and his wife buying 24 boxes of cereal he doesn't like from Costco (but it feeds the rats, he says!)

You can get lines or ideas from your work by eavesdropping.  Of course, I was not inspired by these men, of course, that said, I did remember his story.

Bring snacks.

Choose some books you might not ever read -- such as a book on carpentry or unusual rocks.

Listen to your gut, grab books you immediately respond with even if you're not sure why you are choosing them.

Don't be picky about what you write down--write it all down.  You *won't* remember much from this experience and what you read, so the rule is -- the more, the better.

Later, when you begin to write a poem, pull out images or lines from your notebook as needed. At a later date, these lines will surprise and inspire you again.

Have fun.  Call it an artist date & enjoy.


  1. Hi, hope you don't mind, I nominated you for an award!

  2. I would never mind an award. Does it come with a trophy? ;-)

    J/K, I'll go to your blog to check it out. thanks!

  3. A fantastic game. It frees up the hand and brain a bit, huh...

    It's the best when we see our writing and have no recollection of what we meant.

  4. I love the idea of a new notebook for each big project--yay!

    I'm surprised (and glad) that your big chain bookstore had helpful information. Often, it's just best-sellers and mass-market titles.

  5. I think poets need to take more field trips. And not always by themselves.

    One of my friends is a photographer and he occasionally meets with other photographers for morning photo-walks.

    An excursion like yours would probably be a great exercise for a small poetry group.

  6. I can't believe you found a cool way to turn Big Nuisance into a productive entity. Ha!


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