Keep Your Sissors Handy

Writers’ Trigger: An interviewer from The Paris Review asked Joyce Carol Oates to describe the perfect state for her to write. Her answer is as follows:

“One must be pitiless about this matter of “mood.” In a sense, the writing will create the mood. If are is, as I believe it to be, a genuinely transcendental function – a means by which we rise out of limited, parochial states of mind – then It should not matter very much what states of mind or emotion we are in. Generally I’ve found this to be true: I have forced myself to begin writing when I’ve been utterly exhausted, when I’ve felt my soul as thin as a playing card, when nothing has seemed worth enduring for another five minutes… and somehow the activity of writing changes everything.”

For a number of years I wrote a weekly column for my hometown weekly, and if I learned anything, I learned that there was no point waiting for The Muse to come and take me by the hand. As the deadline approached, I had to write something. And so, many times without even a topic, I would begin to write. Often I would write three or four hundred words before anything began to gel, and once I had a decent sentence… some idea of where I might go… then and only then did I begin to write with intent. It was a good lesson to learn.

The point is that whether or not you are in-the-mood, you must have the discipline to sit down and write regularly.

  • How disciplined are you in regard to writing your morning pages?
  • Do you ever go back over your morning pages and develop those which show some promise?
  • Do that now. Find your favorite morning page from the last week. OK… not a page. How about a favorite sentence or phrase? Work on that page until you have a more polished piece.


A couple of week’s newspaper clippings are also handy triggers. In addition, if you are writing a contemporary piece, they help you zero in on current affairs. As I prepare for my return to the States, I sort through some London newspaper clippings that I’ve acquired during the month of September. A clutch of clippings offers a wealth of cultural and political information. Consider the following headlines or statistics:

  • “Crippled by a keep-fit class: Mother-of-two left paralysed after pole dancing fall.”
  •  A column by Lionel Shriver, author of We Need to Talk About Kevin: “I write a nasty book. And they want a girly cover on it. Publishing’s notion of what women want is dated and patronising. In my case it’s like trying to stuff a rottweiler in a dress.”
  • “Glenn Beck hails vast right-wing rally as proof of America’s anger.”
  • Canna, a Hebridean island with 20 inhabitants is advertising for a family with young children to help to boost the population and increase numbers at the local primary school, where there are four pupils.
  • “British Library ponders the historical value of Twitter.”
  • 60 die-hard viewers watch 92 hours of back-to-back Lost episodes. 
  • “Australian Catholics ban funeral pop songs.” (Among the top ten popular songs played are Nat King Cole’s “Unforgettable”, Vera Lynn’s “We’ll Meet Again”, Sir Harry Secombe’s “Abide With Me” and Frank Sinatra’s version of “My Way.” Most popular unusual songs included Queen’s “Another One Bites the Dust:, AC/DC’s “HIghway to Hell”. the Monty Python ditty “Always Look on the Bright Side of Life”, and “Ding Dong the Witch is Dead”, from The Wizzard of Oz.)
  • “Four million Americans fall into poverty in one year.”
  • “From the US comes a nasty whiff” (of America’s right-wing).
  • “Why your sustainable fish may not be as guilt-free as you think.”
  • “A nation in hock to pawnbrokers.”

If I were to choose my favorite clippings as story-starters, my first choice would be the mother of three who was paralyzed from the neck down in a pole dancing accident. I’d want to explore the background that led her to pole dancing…  develop the relationship with her husband/partner… her three kids… the class… the teacher… the participants… the moves and the music. What was she thinking of just prior to falling? )

I also think the island that is looking for families is rich in possibilities. (Who lives there now? Who applies? How do the applicants adjust to living there?)

As for the funeral songs, can’t you just see a seemingly close-knit family unraveling upon reading the wishes of the deceased?

Start clipping.

About timeout2

I have lived 100 lives. I write essays, short stories, poetry, grocery lists and notes to myself. If I am ever lost, look for a paper trail, but be careful not to trip over any books that lie scattered here and there. I am a reader. I am a reader in awe of writers. When I don't live in Westcliffe, Colorado, I live in London where I am a long-time member of Word-for-Word - Crouch End.
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1 Response to Keep Your Sissors Handy

  1. A clutch of clippings, yes, a good idea for inspiration, musing,jump-starting the writing.

    A few days ago, in addition to my collection of paper clippings, I started an online “idea scrapbook.” I am still working on how to structure it, but I like the possibility. I will have to back it up regularly, of course.

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