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Our Intern Seeks a Cure to Writer’s Block

Posted on August 8, 2012

Try Paris as a Cure to Writer's Block

Home Row Intern Kathryn Brill reports in from a summer program in Paris. We can all learn from a change of scenery.

August 8, 2012

Conventional wisdom has it that if you want to be inspired, you should go somewhere new. This is part of the reason why I applied to a four-week creative writing program in Paris, France for this summer. Inspiration can strike anywhere, it’s true, but it’s much harder to harness when you’re swamped with homework or working a summer job. I needed a place that was new to inspire me, and a place that was dedicated to writing to make sure that something was actually produced from that inspiration. The Paris program offered both those things, and so when I was accepted, I happily sent in my paperwork and packed my bags, ready for a productive summer.  I wasn’t disappointed – I got much more writing done during a month in Paris than I do during an average month in the school year. And Paris, in addition to being one of the world’s most vibrant and beautiful cities, has always been a haven for writers and artists, and welcomed me and my classmates with open arms. But I was surprised at a few things.

For one thing, Paris didn’t show up in my writing as much as I thought it would. Although I was writing prolifically, almost none of it actually featured Paris as a setting. Sitting outside in a café might have been great for my productivity, but the café itself never seemed to end up in what I was writing there. That’s not to say that I wasn’t inspired by my Paris experiences – far from it. The museums I visited, the people I passed on the street, and the ideas I was exposed to via the discussions we had in my program were all instrumental in my writing processes. But unless someone took a peek inside my brain, it would be nearly impossible to tell which parts of my writing came from Paris, and which parts from my other experience. Which just goes to show you that inspiration isn’t always obvious, and much of the time it may not look like what you’re expecting. This is the reason why it can strike anywhere: because the setting or situation is only half the power. The other half is what’s already inside your head.

That being said, I would still advocate going somewhere new to break a writers’ block or start a big project– even if that “somewhere new” is only in the next state over. The inspiration of the place itself is important, but just as important is the reflective mood that a new place brings. When you stand at a distance from your everyday routine and your normal surroundings, it casts a new light on them, giving rise to new understanding and insights. You might notice patterns – ideas that continually captivate you, themes that recur, interests that lie dormant. While in Paris, I was able to survey my life from a different angle, to view it outside of its normal trappings, where it was more clearly understood and analyzed. This may sound more like psychotherapy than creative work, but viewing your own life for what it is, is key to writing. After all, writers draw so heavily on their own experiences that to not understand these experiences is to block a source for potential inspiration. Archimedes famously said, “Give me a lever and a place to stand, and I will move the world.” Paris, for me, was a place to stand, from which I could do the heavy lifting that’s necessary to start a new piece of writing and make sure it moves forward.

Conventional wisdom doesn’t always get it right – but in this instance, it’s right on the money. Not only was Paris a wonderful, once-in-a-lifetime experience, but it was a place that inspired me, showed me a different view of my life, and produced some writing that I’m proud of. And it also proved to me that sometimes, all it takes to start something moving is a change of scenery.

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What is the home row?

The home row is the center row of keys on the keyboard "A,S,D,F,J,K,L,;" When students are taught how to become touch typists (typing without looking at the keys) they begin with their hands resting on the home row. The left hand rests on the "A,S,D,F" keys and the right hand on the "J,K,L,;" keys. From this position the other keys can be reached.