Tuesday, May 19, 2015

One Weird Place I Go to Spark My Creativity.

So its that time of year again. Graduations. School ending. Days getting longer. After living 36 years in New York, the heat is definitely on in Virginia. This week has lots of days in the 90s and high humidity, too.

Its easy for writing time to go by the wayside. Vacations. Summer sports. Kids around more often. Higher noise levels. House visitors. Holidays. Lots of good things that can become distractions.

However, with all this great weather are also great opportunities to increase your creativity. Here's my favorite place to do so, you might think I'm strange and I don't even write suspense!

The cemetery:

 Here are some things I like to do in cemeteries that help my creativity.

-Bring a notebook and camera.

-Sit on peaceful benches and write. What a great quiet spot with lots of beautiful nature around you to inspire.

-Write down names that intrigue me. Many times I have found a great name for a character from looking at tombstones. Also you can get a good feel for what names were popular in particular eras and in your area of the country.

-Look for the big names. Write them down and when you get home do some web searching. You can find out some interesting stories from local "heroes."

-Take a guided tour. We have done several guided tours. You can learn about famous individuals, interesting stories, and strange facts.

-Head into the main building. Here you'll have access to interesting records and those who work in the cemeteries are often very willing to help you find a specific individual. They may have other information about the origins of your town which may help you with setting.

-Take pictures of stones and landscape features. You can certainly tell about the architecture of the time and the economic status of the individuals in a cemetery. What kind of stone is used? Or none at all and a simple marker?

-Observe what is left at cemeteries. We typically think of flowers, but there are so many other more unusual things that are left by stones. Baseballs, scratch lotto tickets, bingo cards, and of course photos are some of the interesting things I've seen. What do these things tell about the relationship between the living and the dead.

Imagine what might a child with a troubled relationship leave at their father's gravestone? What about the mother who has lost a child to a car accident? How about a child who has never met their biological parents? How about a spouse about to remarry? What might they leave and what does that show about their emotions.

-Observe groups of tombstones. Look at death dates, birth dates. What was the family size? Is there a remarriage after a death? Oftentimes a husband or wife dies within a short span of the other? What can you tell about the cause of death? The family health history?

-Read what is written on the stones. I love reading the poetry and imagining the relationship between a husband and wife or reading what a parent has written about a beloved child who died young. Sometimes these bring me to tears I'll admit but they are great fodder for writing.

-Watch groups of people. This may be creepy that I do this, but observing a service from a respectful distance (don't stay too long) can be a valuable writer exercise. You can understand different responses to grieving. Some are noticeable weepers, others wear shades to hide their grief, still others may look unaffected. We all deal with grief in different ways. Picture what the relationship of some of the different individuals with the person who died might be.

-Come home and spend some time observing your notes and photos. Check the internet for more information. 

 Cemetery watching may seem a bit odd, but its been a spark to my own creativity for years. Maybe you'll find a tidbit that helps you discover more about your character and their emotional journey.

Do you cemetery watch? Do you have another outdoor place you like to go for building your creativity?

 Julia lives in Richmond, Virginia area with her husband, two elementary aged children, and three adorable ragdolls. She writes and reviews for Library Journal and is a regular contributor to the site Wonderfully Woven (http://www.wonderfullywoven.com).


Jeanne Takenaka said...

Julia, what an original post. :) I've never sat at a cemetery before. I like your ideas and reasons for trying this!

Most of the cemeteries around here are small and have markers rather than stones. I've noticed smaller towns tend to have more interesting cemeteries.

I'm more of an indoor girl when it comes to writing. But, when I am outside, I love to be near a running river, preferably surrounded by mountains. Or close enough to hear the ocean crashing into the shore. There's something about the sound of water moving that I love. :)

Julia M. Reffner said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Julia M. Reffner said...


This is definitely part of my weirdness. I'll be curious to hear if it sparks your creativity if you try it. Oh, I would love to have more time to write at the ocean. I like you usually write indoors. I think you're right, small towns have really great cemeteries.

Susan Anne Mason said...

I think this is brilliant! I love cemeteries for just that reason. Also I peruse the obituaries to find names and interesting stories.


Julia M. Reffner said...


I forgot to mention that. I love doing that, too! Great idea! Love the stories people write about their loved ones!

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