Monday, October 11, 2010

Monday Update: Where do you get your inspiration?

One of the most frustrating thing for writers is anything having do to with inspiration. Whether it's for a completely new book idea, a character, or the solution to your plot problem, inspiration doesn't come by flipping a switch. And if it did, I think it's safe to say we would be flicking that switch ALL DAY LONG.

It's almost a little frightening if you really think about it. Your entire writing career depends on you getting good, usable ideas on a regular basis. You can force a plot, setting, and characters together, but many of us forget just how much inspiration plays a part into meshing the various elements of your book together. Your working on your character, and you suddenly decide she does pottery, and then you move on. It's not a big sudden "OH MY GOODNESS WHAT IF I DID THAT?" moment like I had last week, but it still fleshes out your character in your own mind, as well as the reader.

You can't force these moments of inspiration, big or small, but you can make conditions suitable for inspiration to want to come and play. These conditions vary from writer to writer, and they sadly do not usually include laying around doing nothing. You will occasionally be struck by brilliance while you're thinking about getting your oil changed, but this doesn't happen that often, at least for me. And it usually follows a session where I was actively brainstorming.

Most of the time inspirtation comes when you go after it with a big stick. If you sit around all day waiting to have ideas, the chances of this happening are very slim. If instead you engage in activities that you find interesting and stimulating, the chances of coming up with what you need increase. And even if you don't have an idea, you still got work done on your novel so that's hardly time wasted, right?

Some ideal conditions might include any number and combination of the following: chocolate, reading a good book, watch a well written TV program, caffeine, talking to a friend, talking to your pet, staring out the window watching the birds, nightmares, music, arguing with a friend, looking at artwork, reading a bad book, working on your novel, dreams, watching an awful TV program, reading the newspaper, taking a walk, swimming, repealing a zombie invasion, and reading one of those Pocket muse books that people rave about, but never seem to do a thing for me.

The crux of the matter is what make your brain tickle with joy will not always make another person's brain tickle with joy. For me, music has always been a reliable source of inspiration, but I know there are plenty of people out there that find it wildly distracting.

I think it would behoove writers to not only keep track of the ideas that come from these sudden brilliant brainstorms, but what they were doing in the first place. It won't work every time, but it certainly doesn't hurt to know what conditions are favorable for your Muse.

There are also the epiphanies that come when you're not looking for one. Last Wednesday I had an amazing epiphany that made my novel so much cooler, and I wasn't even worried about that area of my plot. Actually, I thought I had that part all squared away. But the combination of listening to a new CD by Kamelot, and browsing through some fantasy artwork was enough to send fireworks off in my brain. That high of "OH MY GOODNESS I JUST HAD THE BESTEST IDEA EVAR!" is one of the reasons why I will always be a writer. It's just too much fun to ever stop. And it's legal. ;)

Here are the two songs in particular, in case anyone is curious (Each part is broken into one separate track on the CD, but this Youtube video conveniently puts them all together): Kamelot--Poetry for the Posioned Pt I, II, III, IV

And here is the picture, to support the artist and show you what I mean: Phantom Link by Kirsi Salonen

I took one look at that picture and wanted to know the reason why he has skeleton pets, and I wanted a reason that didn't involve him being evil or a necromancer. 

I got my answer, and the soul of my book.

How do you guys get ideas? Any tricks up your sleeves? What is one of the best "OMG!" moments you've had? 


  1. I used to flip that switch all the time, but my grandmother told me I'd go blind.

    For me, pre-story inspiration almost always starts with the words, "I wonder what/how/why..."

    Mid-story inspiration usually involves me doing something horrible to a character and then I laugh maniacally.

  2. I have a small Moleskin journal with me at all times for story idea notes (well...I've been caught without it, truth be told, but that's why there's a NotePad feature on our phones, right?). Inspiration is everywhere. Yesterday in the parking lot of Target a horrible thing happened, and it's the central significant moment in my newest short fiction. One person's bad decision is another writer's fodder for fiction!

  3. Joe: It never occurred to me to organize it by occasion. Nice thought!

    Nicole: I LOVE Moleskin journals! They are so soft! That's also a good point--watching other people and trying to make something of what is happening to them.