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Writing Matters: Creative Writing Activities

Activity 2 - Inspiration

Without readers, archival documents such as literary manuscripts remain dormant and forgotten. Readers bring these documents to life by connecting them to their personal interests. The creative process is an organic development that requires imaginative connections with "neural and electrical messages rippling the whole into dynamic patterns." (R.W. Gerard, "The Biological Basis of Imagination," in The Creative Process: A Symposium, 1965, p. 246)

Students will be guided in this site search by activities centred on three basic principles of creativity: information, inspiration and invention.


"I do not believe that inspiration falls from heaven. I think it rather the result of a profound indolence and of our incapacity to put to work certain forces in ourselves. These unknown forces work deep within us, with the aid of the elements of daily life, its scenes and passions...."

- Jean Cocteau, "The Process of Inspiration,"
in The Creative Process: A Symposium, 1965 p. 81-82

Jean Cocteau suggests that inspiration forces itself upon us, even against our will. The creative work "makes itself in us and in spite of us demands to be born." (p. 82) Before the conscious act of writing takes place, we need to slumber in our "indolence." Inspiration is the stage before the conscious act: "To write, to conquer ink and paper, accumulate letters and paragraphs, divide them with periods and commas, is a different matter from carrying around the dream of a play or of a book." (Jean Cocteau, in The Creative Process: A Symposium, p. 82)


  1. Ask students to click on the "Manuscript Gallery" of any writer. After they have viewed several items from the gallery, have students jot down in their writing journal, blog or log any ideas that come to mind. Instruct them to use their imagination to freely associate those ideas to their own daily lives. They should indulge their dreams and resist reality.

  2. Have students repeat this process for another writer of their choice. Since inspiration is often mutually induced (the discoveries of insulin and DNA were collaborative ventures), instruct students to share the Manuscript Gallery with a partner. Have them exchange ideas they are able to glean from the gallery. They should use a rehearsal strategy such as brainstorming or exploratory talk with their partner. Individually, students will choose a way to give shape to some of the ideas that they have gleaned by working with their partner. Provide suggestions to students as to the various forms they could use to express their ideas. For example, one student may wish to write a short story while another may prefer to create a poem.

  3. Ask students to answer the following questions:
    1. Which of the writers' manuscripts most resembles your works in progress? Explain.
    2. What similarities exist between your writing process and any of the writers featured on the Canadian Writers site?
    3. If you had to research the work of one of these writers, which would you be inspired to choose? Explain.

Optional Exercise: A Writer's Inspiration

The following passages are taken from works written by the writers introduced on the Canadian Writers website. By reading the following passages carefully for clues, students should be able to detect a source for the author's writing within the manuscript galleries. Ideas, like dreams, have many disguises, and they may not wish to reveal themselves. Besides content, students should look for clues of style and tone. Above all, students will learn to appreciate the writers' insights into the human condition.

  1. All hope of redistributing this incredible classification process lost, Maud sat on a low stool in the twilight of the closet and considered the possessions of drowned men; how they always carried similar objects in the pockets. Yet, it was the crack in the cuff-link that would allow some relative to identify a body the earth had already, mercifully, taken care of. But rarely did that relative appear. These wild, violent deaths were too grotesque, Maud imagined, to be faced. (Jane Urquhart, The Whirlpool, p. 192)

  2. And so, returning to Canada through the fall sunshine, I look homeward now and melt, for though I am crowned and anointed with love and have obtained from life all I asked, what am I as I enter my parents' house but another prodigal daughter? I see their faces at which I shall never be free to look dispassionately. They gaze out of the window with eyes harassed by what they continually fear they see, like premature ghosts, straggling homeward over the plain. (Elizabeth Smart, By Grand Central Station I Sat Down and Wept, in From Ink Lake, p. 458)

View quotations by French authors

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