What Electrifies You? Tell us and win!
Written by
gayle brandeis
January 2012
Written by
gayle brandeis
January 2012

Every once in a while, a student will come to my office, saying she doesn’t know what to write.

“What gets your heart pumping?” I’ll ask her. “What takes your breath away? What makes the hair on your arms stand up on end?”

And she’ll look up into the air until something dawns upon her, and then a smile (or pained expression) will spread across her face. Her brother’s addiction, she’ll tell me, or her pet dog, or her looming student debt, or her quest to bake the perfect red velvet cupcake, or her involvement in the Occupy movement.

“Write about that,” I’ll tell her and she’ll leave the office with a fresh burst of inspiration, a fresh sense of purpose.

When we write about the things that electrify us--either with joy or with fear--we bring a great zing of energy to the page. Energy that will propel our words forward; energy the reader will be able to feel.

Dance has always been one of my greatest passions; as I wrote The Book of Live Wires, I was thrilled to realize that my narrator Darryl’s grandmother had been a dancer. Through her journals (which Darryl has translated from Russian, Yiddish and French), I was able to vicariously experience what it would have been like to dance with two of my greatest dance influences--Isadora Duncan and Josephine Baker. These women have electrified me for years, and I loved translating their wild, uninhibited dance into fiction. Other aspects of the book charged me up, as well--writing about new parenthood, and illness, and other deeply embodied experiences made me feel more fully alive inside my own skin.

What electrifies you right now, as a writer? Please let me know in the comments below, and you could win a copy of The Book of Live Wires. The grand prize winner will receive an ebook and a rare physical galley of the book, along with a copy of my Bellwether-Prize winning novel, The Book of Dead Birds. The second place winner will receive an ebook and a rare physical galley of The Book of Live Wires, and third, fourth and fifth place winners will receive a free copy of the ebook. You can enter until Friday, January 27. The winners will be announced January 30.

I look forward to learning about what keeps you up at night, what thrills you and scares you and makes you race to the page.

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  • gayle brandeis

    Thank you so much, everyone, for all of your beautiful, passionate responses to my question. I am profoundly moved by your voices. You can find the list of winners of the giveaway (and a coupon code for my ebook) here but please continue to share your lightning bolts of inspiration in these comments if you are moved to do so. I will keep reading them! :) Thank you again. xoxo

  • Katherine E. Hinkson


    One of my favorite story lines involves an old gothic victorian house. The Gothic is a character in itself. I love writing that story line.

  • Katherine E. Hinkson


    One of my favorite story lines involves an old gothic victorian house. The Gothic is a character in itself. I love writing that story line.

  • Katherine E. Hinkson


    One of my favorite story lines involves an old gothic victorian house. The Gothic is a character in itself. I love writing that story line.

  • Katherine E. Hinkson


    One of my favorite story lines involves an old gothic victorian house. The Gothic is a character in itself. I love writing that story line.

  • Joanne R. Alloway

    So many things,but Books, the smell of them-old ones, new ones, doesn't matter! Also being in a Library, especially a great one, surrounded by the great works, classics and archival materials.. Wondering how one could ever even touch the tip of this great iceberg?

  • Collene Anderson

    A mantra that begins with "I don't know..." leads me to treat my days as an explorer of knowledge.  The impact of a clear mind that erases my ego and lets life soak in through my pores is electric.

  • Mollie Pearce McKibbon

    New paper, new pens, new books, blank canvas these things electrify me.  I get this excited fluttery feeling when I pick them up.  Life is wonderful and so are words.

  • Patricia Gligor Promoting

    I love old houses and they inspire me! The television show "If Walls Could Talk" was one of my all time favorites. Old houses have so much character and so much history!

    Actually, an old Victorian was the inspiration for Mixed Messages, the first novel in my Malone Mystery Series, which will be published in April. I saw the house and immediately my imagination went to work. What kind of people had lived there through the years? What happened in that house?

  • Rebecca Panzer

    The single pursuit that takes away my fatigue, my unhappiness, my frustrations, is the manipulation of wet clay--potter's clay. When I allow myself to sink into it, I forget all my cares. I've been known to forget to make dinner, run to the post office, or pick my son up from school, too. Not the best moments.... Still, the wonder of bringing a vessel up from a lump of mud never fails to excite and energize me.

  • Katherine E. Hinkson

    This is an amazing question and site. I keep going back to this question and seeing how open and strong women are about thier lives, myself included. I've never met anyone here, but feel safe in opening up here. It's due to the amazing and supporting women found here. I enjoy coming back to this site every chance I get. 

  • Laura L Mays Hoopes

    I love this question.  It relates to what I saw when someone asked me recently what I loved to read as a child.  My arm-hair stands on end when I write about women succeeding against all odds.  I first found that in Secret Garden and Oz and The Enchanted Island of Yew, another Frank Baum book.  But now, it applies to everything that moves me from helping women in science through my memoir, through fiction about coming of age stories with cross-ethnicity close friendships to women wanting to study the environment before they could really do it.  We can do it.  That's my greatest thrill.  

  • Helene Fluhr Hinsey

    Humor electrifies, enchants, and enthralls me. Frankly, it keeps me sane. I love everything about comedy - from the spills and pratfalls of slapstick to obscure Elizabethan puns. Mark Twain once said "The secret source of humor is not joy, but sorrow." While this is absolutely true, what it doesn't say is that humor transmutes that sorrow back into joy. Humor is the gift that keeps on giving, the spice that adds lightness to living, and for me, and endless source of wonder. I dedicate this post (and my life) to the Muse of Humor, without whom, I'd be lost.

  • Shan Jeniah Burton

    My passion is.....passion.  Passion as itself, in many forms.  Passion for writing, and for spinning stories in my own mind.  Passion for my husband, who, after almost 15 years together, still can make my pulse leap just by walking into the room.  Passion, too, for raising our children in love, peace, and harmony.  Passion for ensuring they have the freedom to learn what they need to know, in their own ways and in their own time.  Passion for learning - learning what thrills and yes, electrifies me - delving deeply here, skimming surfaces like a skater over there....

    Passion for bringing more joy into the world, for the delight in complimenting someone and seeing their face light with pleasure, and the way they stand a little straighter, after.  The simple act of holding a door for someone who wasn't expecting it, or meeting the eye of a cashier or toll booth attendant and treating them asa human.

    Passion for nature, for being in places where there is no trace of humans, or where I can pretend there isn't - in the mangrove swamps of the Everglades, on the rim of the Grand Canyon, in the backcountry of Yellowstone.....

    Passion for living, for doing only those things that I can feel passionately worth the doing.  Things like writing, and singing, and hometending, and hugging, and dancing...and living richly and simply. 

  • Want Chyi

    The Body. I was anorexic for years; I am electrified by touch. I am electrified by rock shows where people hurl themselves into bodies and sound. I don't slam but I dance and the roar in my ears and the bass in the floor is everything I love at once.

  • suzi banks baum

    Dear Gayle,

    What a great question!

    Reading the comments before me illuminates my answer because my first and heart thumping response is Women’s Creativity. Look at Josephine’s banana skirt up there ! Someone thought of that, likely her, and made it! Genius. 

    There is so much untapped wealth in the telling and hearing of women’s stories. I have created a blog series about mothering and creativity on my website to further my passion. Let me invite you and other readers to check it out and participate, if it thrills you.

    The blog series rose out of an idea I had to produce an event for the Berkshire Festival of Women Writers this March. It is called ‘Out of the Mouths of Babes: An evening of Mothers reading to others’. When I sat down with the 6 authors I asked to read for the event, I did not quite know what to expect.

    I was riveted. I burst in to tears. I rocked with laughter.

    And I knew, this is my zone for the next bit of time. The thrill of holding space for other women to tell their stories and take part in telling mine is really beyond a thrill. It is my compelling intention for my current manuscript, for my blog and for what I hope to continue to create in the next year.

    Thank you for asking what thrills me.

    You are so generous to offer a prize for commenting.

    I already got mine- this big wide smile filled with gratitude for finding my voice as a writer.

    xoxoxo I’d still love to read your book. I studied dance in college and got to work with Martha Graham in the years before she died. I was a seamstress in her costume shop ( now you know why I noticed the banana skirt). I too have long admired Isadora and Josephine. 

    Here is much love, Suzi

  • Mandy Campbell Moore

    At one point in Emily Dickinson’s life, she was forbidden from reading. Something was wrong with her eyes and a doctor warned that she must not strain them by reading if she hoped to save her vision. Her response was that she would be too lonely without her friends—that is, her books.

    I’m not quite as anti-social as Ms. Dickinson, but sometimes I am.

    Until I started elementary school, I lived in the country without other children nearby. Add to that solitude the fact that I’m an only child. Most kids have imaginary friends. I am told I had a list of thirty such friends when I was four years old. I wasn’t lonely, except when I was.

    Writing has turned out to be a somewhat healthy way to let those pre-school friends come back to life. And, you know, they are extremely loyal friends. They don’t treat me to birthday martinis, but when I let them out to play, they understand I am their Benevolent Dictator for Life and they have to do everything I say!

    Except when they don’t.

    Like real friends, my characters tell lies and get in trouble and let me cry on their shoulders. Or they take charge, and their former Dictator for Life finds she is taking orders from them.

    There are people, who are not my friends, who make me “vant to be alone,” as Greta Garbo said. Sometimes, when people like that are talking to me, they are becoming characters. Oh, I will give them a bad haircut or a hunchback, but they’ll be immortalized within my pages.

    Loneliness can sometimes frighten me. There are many nights when I’m still as lonely as the little girl who only pretended to have friends. But then I hear a raucous noise coming from a blank page, or screen, and I’m asking my friends to take a number, please, and their Benevolent Leader will be with them as soon as she can.

  • Kay Dee Royal

    Reading a book in the same genre as I write...and the hero and heroine take my breath away. The story consumes me for months and even years...it inspires me to be THAT GOOD. I continue to strive for it (smile).

  • Katherine E. Hinkson

    Being a survivor. I refuse to call myself a victim. I'm a survivor of violence that arrived unexpected and sometimes expected in life. I spin my stories so that my main character learns to be strong because of and inspite of the traumas that I put them through. Relapses occur in real life and in my heroes lives. Its the struggles to survive and come out on the other side that is the journey and the learning experience. Learning to believe in my experiences and having my heroes learn it too.

  • The light bulb. It goes off each time a connection is made. Personally, that connection is made from yoga to writing, it goes in a circle. Regardless of whether it’s finding the way back again to the mat or finding the way back again to the keyboard. Showing up, grounding, breathing, and settling into the rhythm. There are so many excuses, so many detours, so many things I could be doing besides connecting. Yoga actually means to yoke or join, and for me, I am absolutely electrified each time I find my way back to writing and yoga.

  • Katherine Harms

    Truth. There is so little truth in normal conversation. People either want to be sure they don't hurt anyone's feelings, or they want to be cute instead of insightful. I'm sorry. Sometimes the only thing that makes my heart pump and raise goosebumps on my arm is the truth. I just love digging into some issue and pulling back all the cosmetic and political coverups and there it is: Truth! I think a lot of people love the truth, but not too many do the work necessary to find and deal with truth. It's what I want to write about.

  • Mary Francesca

    Electric shocks.  Lighting bolts.  What electrifies me usually has the impact of the aforementioned, rather than a sensitive, gentle experience of being lit.  

    So what is it that results in these sharp jolts? There are several things.

    Hearing about women's issues, first and foremost.  Hearing about injustice towards women that bolts me into action - or even learning of improvements made for women and girls in society that make me want to start my own initiative.

    On a more personal level, I am also lit up by the agony of emotions - how they twist and turn within me, begging for me to release them via the written word - to acknowledge their existence - to give them a physical existence - by putting pen to paper.  And when I find those words that perfectly capture those emotions, those monsters, demons, or feelings of joy and ecstasy, my body and soul can light up the world.  

    And if such writings end up helping the plight of women and girls in society, then I am truly on fire.

  • Yejide Kilanko

    Hi Gayle,

    What electrifies me right now in my writing, is the quest to understand the human capacity for evil. I never thought I'll write a psychological thriller but here I am. I wonder if psychopaths are made or born? If as it said, we are the sum of our experiences, what part does the society play (own) in the creation of our monsters? I'll be honest and say that that the path I'm on scary. It's dark and forces me to look behind doors, I'll rather remain closed. But I'm hoping that by the time, I get to the end, I'll have some answers for myself and hopefully if (when) the publishing gods get with the program, my readers too :) All the best!

  • Lynne Favreau

    Capturing experience. Waking up in the morning holding on to the fleeting wisps of a thought before it disappears back into my subconscious. After typing for an hour, rereading a line or passage that hits just the right note-one that makes me think some other soul is inhabiting my body because that line reads as if it were written by a "real" writer spurs me on so I can feel that again and again like a junkie looking for a fix.

    Landscaping, gardening and design-whether interior, jewelry or graphic, anything with elements that can moved around, recolored, shaped, and sorted infinitely. I'm highly suggestible and will redesign my own and others gardens constantly when the seed/gardening catalogs come out. I spend hours imagining the plethora of ways shrubs and trees vary in height and width, bloom and fruit, fall color and winter interest. Creating worlds whether it is within the confines of a four-by-six vegetable bed, or the expanse of a city, this excites me.

    Even better, is if any of the number of ways I connect with and convey information to others is at all helpful. The potential to be of service using what jazzes me keeps me up at night. A neighbor casually asks my opinion as to the best way start a new shrub bed and I will produce a graphed, detailed layout and plant list within days. A friend mentions she is experiencing trouble with her toddler's potty training and I will produce a book list, current methodologies, and anecdotes from various parents describing what worked for them. Nothing make me happier than to be of use employing my passions.

  • Andrea Ramon Eller

    Bach performed live.

    Big Sur waterfalls.

    Small and large miracles:

         Recovering in the middle of a park, an undamaged hearing aid the size of two fingernails – as I’m praying for it;

         Ditto a month later in a parking lot;

         A detailed panorama of Nahant Beach's shoreline – shaped by clouds in the sky (12/ 2011);

         My husband.

    The ocean. The ocean, The ocean.

    Cantor Yossele Rosenblatt’s recordings.

    Jackie Evancho's first "Got Talent" performance.

    Jennifer Holiday’s Broadway “And I Am Telling You” on YouTube.

    Original Van Goghs.

    O.Henry. Tolstoy. “Friends, Romans, countrymen” eulogy.

    Yom Kippur.

    G. Eliot's maxim, "It's never too late to be what you might have been."

    Blow-drying my hair in the bathtub.