Monday, June 28, 2010

Staring into space – creativity at work?

The Rockville 8 is proud to welcome multi-published author Maggie Toussaint as our guest blogger this month. Read on to get an insight into her creative process - and share your own!

By Maggie Toussaint

The other day a friend mentioned she stares into space as she works on inventing her next work of fiction. I found myself nodding my head in agreement with her about how useful that was. Most days I’m on a mission to get so many words written or edited, that the simple joy of drawing words from the ether done onto paper gets lost in the translation. Writing like this, for me at least, becomes the busyness of business.

Additionally, my friend’s comment triggered a memory from my previous career in science, one where a colleague was criticized for not “working” when his peers were visibly at the lab bench busting a gut trying to solve the problem. But, in the end, the “thinking” person saved the day. He came up with the right answer, and he might have missed it if he didn’t respect his process.

Knowing what works for your creative process is invaluable. For instance, if you respond well to competition and deadlines, set up weekly goals and challenges with peers; if you write best in isolation turn off the internet and get going.

In my opinion, staring into space is one of many valid, creative techniques. Let me share another creativity enriching experience with you. Recently, I needed to slow down a scene. As it happened I was a bit under the weather and was too tired to fool with sitting up at the computer. Instead, I hand wrote the scene while resting, knowing I could type it in the document later.

What flowed out my pen and onto paper was moving and poignant in way that doesn’t transfer naturally from my fingertips to cursor. And in doing this, I remembered that all writing is not created equal. Some is richer and deeper. I’d just forgotten where I put the richer and deeper.

So, whether it’s staring into space or taking the time to form each letter of your words, creativity is as unique as each person. It’s as unlimited as your imagination. Best of all, it’s right at your fingertips.

Chime in and share your creative solutions. I’d love to hear from you!

Maggie Toussaint

Coming this October: MUDDY WATERS

… a sleepy southern town … a lost inheritance …
Will Roxie and Sloan find the treasure or will their enemy prevail?


  1. Excellent advice, Maggie. Sometimes, I have to "see" it to write it. So you can often catch me staring into space.

    Sometimes, I have to "hear" it. So my former newsroom colleagues are REALLY glad I work at home now.

    Thanks for spending time with the R8 today!

  2. Thank you, Nicole! I'm thrilled to be here with the Rockville 8 today. WRW was my first viable connection with the world of publishing, and in the 14 years of my membership there, so many members have become lasting friends. Whenever I wonder how it all began, I know it didn't begin with the first books I wrote. It began in the Company of Writers. R8 is a chunk of that.

  3. My best "writing" normally comes as I fall asleep at night. I spin myself stories and so often find the answers to my most difficult plot holes.


  4. Ah yes, that twilight moment where all possibilities become fleshed out. For me the challenge is to hang onto these night time fixes long enough to get them written down. Thanks for sharing, Lavinia!

  5. One of my favorite lyrics is from Mary Chapin Carpenter's "Passionate Kisses": "Cool quite and time to think and pens that won't run out of ink." (I think that's the order at any rate, might have the lines flipped)

    Over the last year, I've found my most productive writing time is spent among people - there is something about being out of my house that cues me to "work." But I think I'm more like Lavinia on the "thinking" part - that happens as I'm drifting into sleep - that's where my richer and deeper dwell.

  6. Hi Maggie,
    I enjoyed your words on writing, its richness as origin. We get so caught up in the process, at times we forget the power of a pen on paper. Thanks for the reminder. *Hugs* Wishing you continued success!


  7. Hi, Maggie,

    I agree that we need to give ourselves permission to just stare out in space. I like to close my eyes in the early morning and just relax and think for a while before I get up. Later in the day, walking or using the treadmill helps me think creatively.

    Congrats on your new novel!

  8. I seem to get my best ideas by walking around my house with my music blasting. I don't know why, but it gives me so many ideas for my stories.

  9. I'm really enjoying the creative flow in these blog comments!

    Keely, how wonderful that you know yourself well enough to realize that you enjoy writing in the presence of other people and also relish the drifting off to sleep moments. I LOVE Mary Chapin Carpenter - great lyric you cited!

    Diana, Thanks for stopping in and sharing the love.

    Jacqueline, I am intrigued that both stillness and reflection as well as mindless exercise (treadmill) sparks your creativity. With the later, you're getting the benefit of fitness as well. Would that I could be so fit. Alas, I dream/think best being still.

    KJ, You're the first to mention loud music. I think you may be onto something. I had one record album (yep, I know, I'm dating myself) that I listened to loudly while studying for exams in college. It was my study album. But the reason it was so perfect for me is that I knew every word, every guitar riff, every drum solo. Effectively, it was white noise.

    Maybe that's the key: Getting to that point where all the other noise of life is cancelled and you can channel your inner muse. It's a good theory.

  10. Brilliant! Thanks Maggie. I will give myself permission to stare into space or whatever it takes, as long as it's ethical and legal, of course, to get my creative flow rushing along again. It's been sluggish far too long now.

  11. G'morning Beth! Sometimes we need to shake things up to find that creative burst again. I have confidence you'll pick up a full head of steam real soon.

  12. Very moving and thought-provoking post, Maggie. I was especially struck by your words about the richness of the writing that flowed from your pen when you wrote it out instead of typing it into a computer. I'm going to remember that for the future when I'm struggling with what I want to say but can't seem to find the words.

    Sandra Robbins

  13. Maggie, time in the house alone is a must for me, at least often enough for my brain to realize someone isn't going to walk in and interrupt my thoughts or blare their music under my feet, etc. And I do plenty of staring out the window.

    I've just recently gone back to writing major scenes on paper first, with pencil, and I find it does make a good deal of difference in the feel of the scene, as well as being a nice 'escape' for my brain that's really very refreshing.

    Best of luck with Muddy Waters!

  14. Maggie:
    Yes, I'm a starer, but I've found that meditation while staring at an object that might inspire the process is good too. I have a collage that I created at a workshop that translates the theme of my book into pictures. That has helped a great deal.
    Also, I put headphones on my head with just instrumental music playing, nothing I can sing to or rock to, but just celtic flute music and of late the sounds of the sea and that brings out the creative process.
    Thanks for letting me share.
    Write on,
    Teresa R.

  15. Maggie, some of my best inspiration comes while driving. I have a long commute back and forth to work each day and I keep a digital voice recorder with me everywhere I go. I "talk" through a scene(s) and then transcribe them when I get to my computer.

  16. Maggie, I love the cover for "Muddy Waters." Can't wait to put it on my reading list! I stare into space often while I'm creating. I usually do it on two occasions - when I'm planning an arc in the novel I'm working, I'm thinking through the scenes and chapters in that arc, and I'll do it again, as I plan a chapter out and envision it in my mind. I think staring off into space is very important to the creative process. Thanks for sharing today!


  17. MAGGIE--I, too, am a starer. Unfortunately, I do it sometimes when my dh is into telling me a riveting story. It seems as though I'm not listening--but I am--to the voices in my head. Maybe I've gone around the bend. You have a valid point about the people trying to solve a problem. It's the quiet person who seems not to be engaged with the others and the conversation, but then she speaks up--and out comes wisdom. A good lesson. Celia

  18. Maggie, I agree with you. Staring into space is very productive. I have been doing it since my childhood days and was often scolded for it. I often daydream a scene while staring into space or walking on the beach and staring at the waves or staring in the dark before I drift off.

  19. Hi Maggie,

    Well, I'm not a starer. I head out to the garden (unless it's over 80 degrees outside) and cut, trim, plant, etc. I'm one of those people who have to be doing something when I hit a "writer's block" or temporary unexpected stopping point. I also "program" my dreams when I have a plot problem. Surprisingly, by the time I wake up, I have at least two solutions. :-)


  20. I love staring into space. Most times it works, sometimes it doesn't. There's such a thing as trying too hard :) I had an experience like that a few weeks ago. I was trying too hard to come up with a story idea. I spent a lot of time staring into space to no avail. Then, this weekend, while I was reading another book, one in an entirely different genre, a simple line made everything click into place for me. They weren't even related on the surface of things. I doubt anyone could make the connection but me. So here I thought I was accomplishing nothing, and all the while my subconscious was trying to work things out. Suddenly, when I least expected it, it all clicked!

    Great post, Maggie. Glad to know staring into space counts as work!

    Liana Laverentz

  21. Hi Maggie. Of course STARING = WRITING. The wheels are turning and if you listen closely, you'll hear the characters talking to one another. : ) I also find walking, gardening, playing the piano, and any type of music works. Oh, what am I saying? LIFE produces words. Hee hee. Bet you knew that.

  22. Maggie, thanks for the reminder about writing with pen and paper. That's how it was for me in the early years and I had forgotten that sometimes it is a good way to work now, especially if I am stuck.

  23. omigosh! Look at all these comments! I treasure every word.

    Sandra, I hope you'll always be able to find the richer and deeper words.

    Loraine, Hugs to another starer and handwritter. Nice to know someone else who's in their "right" mind...

    Teresa, Meditation is great for unlocking creative flow.

    Angelyn, I love your idea of a tape recorder to use while driving. Cool.

    Hey Steph! Another writer in her "right" mind! Thanks for stopping by.

    Celia, shh! I think we all zone out a bit when our husbands are talking....

    Mona! I love staring at waves breaking on the beach. One of these days I need to get back down to southern Florida and sit on your beach with you.

    Linda, What fun! Your creativity comes out with gardening. You are so lucky. My Evil Twin comes out while gardening and snips most trimmable things to the nub because she hates the endless round of it all.

    Liana, I like that you didn't get overly frustrated by the delay in your thoughts. Your brain was still working on the matter, behind the scenes. Best, you waited for the right answer!

    Hey Drue! You are so direct. I find it refreshing. Yes for some of us, STARING = WRITING

    Thanks, everyone!

  24. I'm learning to take quiet moments to sit in my favorite rocker (actually a glider) and think. No music, no conversation, just silence. It's calming, and ideas have a chance to make themselves heard.

  25. Hi Maryann,
    Your comment snuck in while I was writing that long comment above. Its always good to hear from you. I think its so important that each writer find a way to reliably connect with their creative center.

  26. You're so right, Patricia. Our ideas have to rise about the noise in our lives and in our head to be heard. I'm glad you've found what works for you.

  27. Staring into space is one of my favorite pastimes, Maggie. And it's so productive. I also do a lot of my thinking on walks. I'll take two or three walks a day--once got to thinking and realized I'd hiked a significant portion of Hadrian's Wall without meaning to--and just let my mind wander while I do so. It's my way of culling out the clutter.

  28. I filled out a questionnaire for someone just yesterday, and listed staring into space as one of the ways I get my creative juices flowing. And I also said that my most creative time was right before I went to sleep. Sounds like I'm on the right track! Now, finding a way to work somewhat "normal" hours would be nice lol Good to see you here Maggie!

  29. Hi Maggie -- thanks for guesting here on the Rockville 8! I am happy to find myself in good company with all the others who seem to "get" the answers, just as they're falling asleep. I have learned to get up and write whatever it is down or it *will* be gone by morning.

  30. Keena, How wonderful that walking settles you down so that the ideas rise to the top like cream. I'm so impressed with the writers here who get recharged with motion.

    Hi Debra! Sounds like you're as "normal" as the rest of us - if there is such a critter as a normal writer. Recognizing your personal creativity cues is essential to maintaining a long-term, productive writing career, in my opinion.

    Yvonne - you're a twilight thinker! Wouldn't it be lovely if we could access that creative twilight portal any time of day or night? Like you, if I get an idea in that transitory time, I have to write it down or chance that it will be gone by morning!

    Thanks to everyone for stopping in and leaving so many helpful comments about creativity.

    And thanks to the Rockville 8 for inviting me to hang out with them today. This was way cool.

  31. Great post, Maggie. Thank you. I find I'm a hybrid. I work best alone, but there are times when getting out to a public place to write with friends is just what I need to overcome a hurdle. It is important to understand what motivates you and keeps you writing. If you can find it and keep it, you're half way there. Thanks, again. :)

  32. Hi Maggie!!! Wonderful post, as usual. YOU are always inspiring:))) I am similar to Teresa and Angelyn. I do my best thinking while driving in a car and listening to celtic instrumental music. There is something about the motion and music combined that really gets my mind working and helps me understand my characters better.

  33. As usual, Maggie makes us think, even when we're not staring into space.

  34. Too often, I let the responsibilities of work and family crowd out the time I need to empty my mind - not necessarily to think but just to drift. Of all people, it was an accountant who once told me that work isn't always about 'doing' - it can be productive to put your feet up and let your mind roam. I try to remember his words when life gets so busy I feel like a mouse scurrying on a wheel going nowhere. Early morning in a quiet house is my best time for writing.

  35. My family will tell you that I'm always staring into space or not listening. That's because I'm thinking of the next scene or wrestling with a plotting problem. Often a solution will come when not actively seeking one, like driving in the car or taking a walk. So time for contemplation is a necessary part of the writing process.