Look, listen and learn: Sites to inspire new writing ideas and creative cross-pollination

Sometimes, when you’re searching for a new non-fiction writing idea or seeking a new avenue of research for a current project, the best place to go to stir fruitful associations isn’t a word-based item, such as a book, magazine or text-heavy website. One of my secrets to successful creative cross-pollination is to shake myself out of my home discipline (writing) and explore other artistic expressions that can spark new approaches or generate new ideas.

Here are a few web links to visual and aural sources of inspiration. See if they don’t help you find your own treasure trove of writing inspiration.

Sight

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Illustration courtesy of SXC.

I turn to visual links when I need an iconic approach to teach me the most direct way to represent an idea. As I noted a couple of posts back, information visualization has become quite popular in the past decade, influencing business presentations, lobbying campaigns, even journalism.

The VizThink blog recently posted a lovely presentation by David Armano of the Dachis Group (part of a talk he gave at Blogworld 2009) on the value of visual thinking. This to-the-point presentation also provides a nice example of how to turn an information-based project into a visual expression. It’s a great place to start if you have a cool story idea and you want to map it to get a visual perspective on it.

If you’re at a loss to figure out what sort of visual representation might inspire you, you can check out this periodic table of visualization methods which provides examples for dozens of methods.

Sometimes it’s not information you want visualized, it’s life itself. Here are a few of the places I rest my eyes when I want to use them to turbo-charge my writing:

Toxel.com
Some of the most outlandish and thought provoking photos of design projects, from bus stops to shoes made of bread, I have ever seen.

deviantART
It’s the world’s largest free online art community and there’s plenty of mind-stretching illustrations and photographs to see and ponder.

America Creates
A magnificent portal to some of the best American artists and crafters working today. Lovely photos of the artworks, as well as lots of information on the artists themselves. Awesome resource for arts writers, in particular, but a visual feast for us all.

Sound

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Illustration courtesy SXC.

Music and the spoken word are both good for shaking up the grey matter. I often like to think about what songs would make a nice “soundtrack” to a narrative writing project I’m working on, and the composition process for creating music has many parallels to the writing process (and if the music has lyrics, is intertwined with it). And since writing evolved from the oral traditions of the world, listening to a tale told aloud is a quick way to discover how one’s words impact the audience.

Mashable.com compiled a list of 100+ musicians who are on Twitter. The artists mentioned range from Amy Grant to Weird Al Yankovic and almost anyone in between, including lesser-known artists such as Jason Drake’s one-man project Cassettes Won’t Listen. The list is a fun way to discover new artists or to keep up with the comings or goings of old favorites.

If you want to find new music to listen to, you can use a service like Pandora or Last.fm, but you could also check out StumbleAudio to expand your audio horizons. Kyle Judkins of Lost in Technology blog wrote a nice piece last year about using the service.

If you’re a fan of jazz, Garr Reynolds of Presentation Zen blog wrote a series late last year about lessons from the art of jazz. It’s intended for his audience, who reads his blog for tips on how to make better presentations, but it’s about storytelling, nonetheless, and mostly nonfiction storytelling at that. Part one is a review of Wynton Marsalis’ book “Moving to Higher Ground,” and part two deals with jazz’s handling of structure and spontaneity. Both posts have generous video embeds either showing interviews with jazz musicians or performances.

On the spoken-word side of Internet audio, podcasts offer on-demand examples of good or not-so-good storytelling. Podcast Alley and iTunes offer access to hundreds of podcasts. Digital Podcast also offers podcasts and instruction on how to produce podcasts, as well as advice on how to use podcasts and other social media tools to build one’s business.

The question to you: What artistic disciplines or mediums other than writing do you turn to to revitalize your work?

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