Practice Your Writing by Storytelling: 5 Sources of Inspiration

by Kendra Bonnett on June 17, 2012

catnav-alchemy-activePost #41 – Memoir and Fiction, Writing Alchemy – Kendra Bonnett and Matilda Butler

I’ve just posted a blog over on She Writes. I’m doing another week of guest blogging over there. My theme this week is tips and advice from the masters. In honor of the late Ray Bradbury, I’m using his book Zen in the Art of Writing as today’s inspiration.


10,000 Hours of Practice

Bradbury believed in practice. As he wrote in his 1973 essay, “Zen in the Art of Writing,”

“A great surgeon dissects and re-dissects a thousand, ten thousand bodies, tissues, organs, preparing thus by quantity the time when quality will count–with a living creature under his knife.
“An athlete may run ten thousand miles in order to prepare for one hundred yards.
“Quantity gives experience. From experience alone can quality come.”

I marvel at these words even more since Bradbury wrote them 35 years before Malcolm Gladwell introduced us to the 10,000-hour rule in his book Outliers: The Story of Success.

Writing with Purpose

While I agree with Bradbury that quantity can give rise to quality, I have to include a caveat: You have to have something to write…a story. Picking up a pencil or opening a laptop and just writing whatever comes to mind is probably not the best form of practice. To all of you who journal, I’m not diminishing the importance of this exercise. I’m only suggesting that there is yet a larger venue that is still practice. Let’s call it Practice Performance.

Let me use Gladwell’s 10,000-hour rule as our roadmap on this. As Gladwell explained The Beatles’ success, he noted their 1200 live performances in Hamburg, Germany, between 1960 to 1964. These were a form of practice. Dress rehearsals, perhaps, for hitting the international music scene. What Gladwell didn’t count were the countless hours practicing alone and together or the many jam sessions they joined. Hamburg took their practice to another level–practice with a purpose.

For Bradbury, I suspect, giving purpose to his writing was probably not a big problem. You don’t write more than 500 novels, short stories, poems, plays, screen and television scripts and not have a well-developed sense of storytelling.

memoir writing prompt logo

5 Sources of Storytelling Inspiration

If you have trouble settling on what to write and find that you spend more time worrying about WHAT to write than actually writing, maybe you need a blueprint for your practice. Here are a few ideas that will help you focus on a storytelling idea…one that you can come back to everyday. This way, you’ll have your general plan in place. You’ll sit down at your desk, focus on your topic and draw on your creative imagination to stimulate your writing. Keep this up day after day and you’ll achieve your own 10,000 hours before you know it.

  1. Start with an Entry from Your Journal: Since so many memoir writers keep journals, this is the ideal source for your writing inspiration. Review past entries, find a snippet that interests you and turn it into a more polished piece of writing.
  2. Adapt One of Your Favorite Stories: Just as West Side Story is a retelling of Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet and Miss Saigon is Madame Butterfly set in Vietnam, so too are many of our favorite stories. There are many books available that outline classic plots you can use in your storytelling, such as Christopher Booker’s Seven Basic Plots: Why We Tell Stories. Better still, start with your favorite story, boil it down to its basic plotline and see if you can use that as the framework for telling your own story.
  3. Pick a Favorite Children’s Story: Great plots are not limited to adult literature. There are a lot of classic children’s stories that might stimulate your storytelling muse. It might be fun to take the 1961 Newbery winner The Cricket in Times Square or Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women and rework them into adult stories. Or pick a classic fairy tale or Greek myth as your inspiration.
  4. Write a Story from Your Life: If you’ve been itching to start writing your memoir, then there’s no time like the present. Pick a story and start writing. One bit of advice: if you really want to write a memoir, then at some point you’ll need to stop just writing stories and take the time to give your memoir a theme and message and a structure. But for now, we’re just trying to come up with storytelling inspiration. So go for it.
  5. Place Yourself in Five Points, OK: Some of us do best when our creative imagination is just allowed to wander. That’s great, but if you only have a small amount of time that you can allocate to your daily writing, then you need something to get you moving quickly. That’s where our own StoryMap: The Neverending Story Prompt comes to the rescue. Here you’ll find enough characters, locations and ideas to keep you writing for a long, long time. And if you’re practicing your memoir writing, then be sure to put yourself in the story you create using StoryMap.

StoryMap, memoir writing, storytelling

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