Ask the Expert: Sierra Prasada

This week, we’re introducing a new “Ask the Expert” feature on our blog. To kick things off, Sierra Prasada, author of The Creative Compass, talks about writer’s block, inspiration, and “sticky” ideas.

What advice do you have for writers who are suffering from writer’s block or say they lack inspiration?

I’ve felt that. I’ve been there. I think it’s useful to hear that first, especially from another writer.

How many times have I sat down in front of my laptop or a notebook, determined to write something, anything, without something specific in mind? It’s still a frightening moment. What consolation I can muster comes from my memory of past writing sessions, the gap between that awful blank and the point, sometimes just a few minutes later, when… what’s this? I’m writing! Words are streaming from my (proverbial) pen! But what changed?

When I contemplate this gap, sometimes while still very much mired in it, I feel Wonder. Delight. Exhilaration. Most of all, I feel release. And that appears to be the best spur for writing.

(This is a short answer, of course. The longer one is in my book The Creative Compass.)

Where is your favorite place to write and why?

At home. If I’m immersed in something, I can and will write anywhere, but I like to curl up in bed (usually made) with a lap desk or take a seat at the kitchen table, whatever space doesn’t scream “Work!” to me.

I like the silence. I like that I can jump up and take a walk around or do a little dance. I like that I can talk to myself or read something aloud. When I write, I need to let out my inner circus, and I can’t really do that in a café.

When is the best time of day for you to write?

Mornings. I love going into the rest of the day feeling that I’ve accomplished something creative. I find it harder to get started later in the day — though I will say that doing so can be more satisfying because the degree of accomplishment is therefore proportionally greater. That’s my win-win writing schedule.

Do you prefer to handwrite or compose at the keyboard? If you do both, do you find that your writing differs when you type on the keyboard rather than use a pen?

I find that handwriting and typing serve different purposes, in large part because the one provides a change of style and pace from the other. I imagine I’m like many writers in that I often wish I were a creature of routine, but I’m not. I crave variety! When I do write in notebooks, I like them plain. No moleskin for me. I want the ideas to shine, not the paper.

When you get a brilliant thought, phrase, or idea at an inopportune time (while in the shower, in a meeting, or driving, for instance), what do you do?

Is it a sticky idea? If so, it will come running on back. I’m less interested in what seems brilliant in the moment than in what strikes me, again and again, as inevitable.

Of course, I could also say that modern technology has made it easier than ever to record our ideas. So, nowadays, if you prefer to use “adhesive” (i.e., record it), it will take more than a shower, meeting, or car ride to stop you.

What inspires YOU?

I take a lot of inspiration from others’ works of art. It helps me to remember that plays or books or paintings represent someone else’s perspective on the world, that I would treat the same subject matter differently, that I could make it my own. That authors and artists are people, just like me, who take the act of expression seriously.

Who would you say is your greatest writing influence, in terms of your style?

Right now, the ebb and flow of good conversation seems to have the greatest influence on my work. Some say style is rhythm, and I’m most content with anything I’ve written when I feel it trips off the tongue, when the spacing and punctuation hold the balance between expression and silence. I often read what I’ve written aloud, if I can, to another person. So maybe it’s the storyteller as teller that influences me.

Sierra Prasada is the author of two books — Creative Lives: Portraits of Lebanese Artists and The Creative Compass: Writing Your Way from Inspiration to Publication (with Dan Millman). She recently completed a screenplay adaptation of the novel The Journeys of Socrates. In past incarnations, she has reported in the Middle East for print, radio, and television, working in Arabic and English; taught bi-coastal writing and creativity classes; and assistant directed professional theater productions in Washington, D.C. She now writes and improvises in New York City.

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