July 18, 2012

writing practice: sensory triggers

I have read about this practice in multiple books on creativity and writing, but the concept of sensory triggers came most into play for me when I participated in NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) last year. The daily discipline of sitting down to write 1700 words in the midst of a busy schedule (and throughout cross-country travels) proved to be quite a challenge. Some days, I only had one period of time when I could write, and it was so important to make the most of that time! I believe that creativity requires a combination of discipline and inspiration, finely balanced to very personal specifications for each of us. Sitting down each day to write was, for me, the 'easy' part. Coaxing inspiration and getting my thoughts to flow freely was the bigger challenge.
I had come across this idea of writing triggers before, and decided to incorporate them into my writing practice for NaNoWriMo. I hoped it would create some important consistency for the project and allow me to rise above place, time of day, and other distracting inconsistencies in my environment. I have always loved a chance to create an atmosphere - nurturing my senses really strengthens my creative self! So I chose a favorite candle, and a delicious blend of tea, and began each writing session with those sensory triggers. I am really good at telling my body to "sit down at the desk now, and open your computer." But I was amazed at the way these triggers served as a wake-up call beyond words and instructions, stirring my creative brain to pour into words on the screen. 
My very favorite candle is this Peony-scented glass filled candle by Henri Bendel. It is an investment price-wise, but the scent burns soft and clean and steady, and as it burns, I am immediately transported! The brand offers many other scents, a few of which I have tried, like Pomegranate and Lemon Verbena. Every scent lived up to its source and was exactly what you want from a fancy candle. Their 9.4-ounce candles have a 60-hour burn time, so they last a lot longer than you think, too! If you want to try them out with a smaller price tag, you can also get many of their scents in a travel size for less of an investment. Even their artwork and package design inspire me: so lovely!!
I am somewhat of a tea connoisseur, and so there has been a lot more variety in my tea trigger choices. This "Paris" blend of black tea with fruits and bergamot by Harney & Sons is one of my favorites! I love a good cup of looseleaf tea, but sometimes when traveling or pressed for time, a bagged tea (or "sachet," as Harney & Sons chooses to call them, much to my pleasure!) is the most practical option. Harney & Sons is my favorite bagged tea brand for several reasons, other than just the word "sachet!" Their sachets come in a pretty triangle shape and once again, the package design is unbelievably lovely! I also appreciate the quality of this tea, which seems closer to looseleaf than most bagged tea. This brand is also readily available in a wide range of flavors in both loose-leaf and sachets, at many stores, including Williams-Sonoma and Barnes and Noble. While I am no expert, I have tried many different brands, and I think you get an amazing flavor and quality in these teas!

The other trigger I began to embrace was writing to music. When I am writing organizationally, like in blog posts or editing drafts of a piece I have already written, I really benefit from silence. I need the emptiness available, so that I can hear my own thoughts and organize them into that empty space. But when I want to coax my thoughts to spill onto the page, to get that raw content within me out and have something new to work with, certain music really helps me to achieve this flow. I tend to prefer music that has strong, soft melodies, and often many layers of orchestration; less "song" and more "composition." And I have noticed that even songwriters I choose have this in common: their lyrics fall back in the mix a bit and do not catch my attention as much as their melodies do. This is opposite of how I usually enjoy music, and it feels like something important to observe. Creative practice requires new territory sometimes! Typically, when I listen to a band or artist, I am most attracted to and aware of vocal melodies and lyrics. My personal favorites often gain my admiration because of the poetry between melody and lyrical content. I am such a word-based processor of a person! But in creating, I need the words to fall back from focus and I need to be moved by the music and able to concentrate instead on the words within myself. Some artists I love to listen to while writing are Bon Iver, The National and Beach House. 
But perhaps my favorite writing-music this past year or so is the work of Dustin O'Halloran. I first heard his music in Sofia Coppola's film "Marie Antoinette" and was immediately obsessed with his simple but breathtaking "Opus" pieces featured on that film's soundtrack. I can not believe I waited so long to look up his other work! His album "Lumiere" is perhaps my very favorite at the moment, and has been the soundtrack to the far majority of my writing sessions this past year. (Totally coincidental with my blog name, if you can believe it! I actually did not notice the connection until just this moment, but I'm sure my subconscious mind knows otherwise...) Hearing just the first few notes of the intro track of the album, "A Great Divide," capsizes the content of my heart as my words spill onto the page. 

As I traveled and completed my NaNoWriMo project (I "won"!! Learn more about NaNoWriMo here!), my sensory triggers proved to be wonderful companions in my creative practice. They awakened all of my senses: the sight of the candle flame, the smell of its scent, the sounds of the music and my fingers typing, the taste of the tea and the sensation of steam rising to touch my face as I sipped. It is comforting to know that when I am stuck and find it difficult to focus, these gifts are there to nurture my process. I try to incorporate my trigger elements in my writing as often as I can, to protect the connection and spark! Do you use any sensory triggers as a part of your practice? 

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