A guest post (with photos and illustrations) by Secrets of Paris friend and creativity coach Cynthia Morris of Original Impulse
Paris has always been a place where creative people come from around the world come to flourish. Renoir, Anais Nin, Gertrude Stein, Brassai, Picasso, Henry Miller….the list of creative luminaries whose work was positively influenced by Paris is long.
It’s easy to make the imaginative leap where you become a creative genius in Paris, too. Woody Allen’s Midnight in Paris shows that the City of Light still sparks hope for the creative person. But does it deliver beyond the clichés? Does Paris actually make us better writers and artists?
For me and many others who claim Paris as part of their creative lineage, it does. But not in the way you may think. It’s not all roses and champagne.
Paris grabbed my heart when I was a high school French student. After seeing a brochure for studying abroad, I saved my money and skipped graduation. After three weeks in France, I was smitten. Like many a character in a classic French novel, I was the young naif who became certain that Paris was where I would thrive.
After I graduated from university with a French degree, I became obsessed with American bookseller Sylvia Beach, founder of Shakespeare and Company bookstore. I dedicated many hours over many years immersed in the research of her world so I could write my historical novel, Chasing Sylvia Beach.
Annual research trips to Paris fanned the flames of my love. As I grew into a woman, my creativity bloomed and my style and creative sensibilities were directly affected by Paris.
The illustrated journals I made during each visit inspired others, which led me to design and lead creativity workshops in Paris. Using the journal helped me understand what, exactly, made Paris such an influence on my creativity.
Why Paris inspires my creativity
Here’s why Paris, more than any other city I’ve been to, delivers:
- wide sidewalks that give a bit more space than many other cities
- pockets of green that offer quiet places to rest and reflect
- plenty of civic areas with benches where all kinds of people gather
- cafe culture that allows lingering without purpose
- free beauty everywhere – shop windows, architecture, people
- attention to design in every detail
- walkability allows a direct engagement with the city
- rich cultural history sparks a sense of both tradition and possibility
I could go on, and you can probably add your own things to this list.
In this environment devoted to beauty and order, you’re forced to slow down. Every turn offers surprise and possible delight. Fuel yourself with delicious food and drinks and you’ve got a heady cocktail to stimulate your creative dreams.
Down but not out in Paris
Dreams are one thing, making art or writing a novel is another thing. Over the years, the shiny glow of Paris began to develop a darker patina. I saw the rough edges. I experienced the rude waiter in the bistro and the scam artist on the street. I felt the loneliness of a Parisian Sunday when the café closes early and there’s no family to go home to. Every trip had its wildly glorious moments of inspiration, and every trip had its shit story, too.
My novel is a historical novel, so I spent a lot of time occupying pre-war Paris in my mind. Wandering a side street, I’d squint and try to imagine the scene with more soot, more grit. Poverty, war and pollution exerted an influence on every artist and writer who passed through.
The grit and the grim exist alongside the glamour and elegance. But all good stories must have their edge. It’s the drama that makes our stories better. The times I’ve been lonely, lost and scared in Paris all influenced my character’s experience in my novel. No edge, no depth.
You have to go there and face the gray. You have to get soaked by the drizzle. You have to get jostled by the crowds that pulse through the metro stations and along the boulevards. It’s inevitable that you will get dirty, get lost and get discouraged.
But every nasty Paris experience informed my novel, where my characters have to respond to their own difficult Parisian moments.
Live the dream, shed the fantasy
In order to create great – or even good – art, the dark side has to be there. No story can exist without conflict. It’s not just the delightful and breathtaking that inspire our creativity. The dark and despairing contribute too.
It’s fun to revel in the fantasy. It’s even more potent to experience the gritty reality, turning both our wonderful and awful experiences into art.
Contest and Online Class
How has Paris influenced your life and art?
Share in the comments below your how Paris inspires your creativity in 200 characters or less (we’re more generous than Twitter) before March 12th, when Cynthia will choose one randomly to win a signed copy of her historic novel, Chasing Sylvia Beach. Note: If you’re in North America it will be shipped by Cynthia; if you’re in Europe it will be shipped by Heather from Secrets of Paris HQ. (If you’re somewhere else, we’ll flip a coin.)
If you’ve been dying to get your own Paris experiences down in writing, join Cynthia’s online class, Write Your Paris Stories, beginning March 12th. Fun and lively, this class is designed for beginner and advanced writers seeking guidance, support and focus to complete a story alongside fellow Paris writers. Learn more about it here: Write Your Paris Stories Online Class