Blogger: Mary Keeley
It’s been a few years since I blogged about where to get inspiration for your writing. One suggestion I gave for engaging readers back then was to relate to current events and the cultural issues they illicit. But times have changed and maybe that isn’t such a good idea in the current climate. So then, where does a writer go to find inspiration and gather ideas?
I know I’m not alone in my desire for relief from the chaos in the world and here at home. Writers have the privilege to deliver uplifting antidotes.
Find inspiration in these wise directions:
“…whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things” (Philippians 4:8).
Generate ideas from sources such as these:
Read a book by an author you haven’t read before.
Pay attention to the subtle differences between the authors’ use of words and descriptions to spark fresh ideas. Nonfiction writers, read current books on your general topic to brainstorm an angle not used before.
People-Watch, especially in places where your target readers gather.
Jot down specific observations in your notebook. Does someone strike you as a potentially interesting character? Note mannerisms, facial expressions, speech, movement and stride, and any unique characteristics. This matching is important because agents and editors can spot traits that aren’t in sync with the character as you develop him or her.
Step away from your writing desk and do something physical to muster those endorphins. Take a little voice recorder or writing tablet with you and go for a walk around your neighborhood. Observe. Listen. Smell. Record everything that hits your senses; don’t trust your memory. Refer to your notes when you’re setting a scene to help readers feel like they are right there with the action.
Plan regular time for searching.
The seasons affect each of us differently. Have you noticed a pattern in the seasons you seem to be the most creative? It’s logical to assume that spring’s burst of new life or autumn’s harvest are the most productive seasons for creative writing. But looking back at your own personal experience, maybe that isn’t true for you. Maybe the abundance of sunshine in the summer is your sweetest writing season, or the quiet dormancy of winter works for you. Capitalize on your most productive season by blocking off ‘retreat’ days to search for inspiration and new ideas.
It’s nearly impossible to sustain creativity in a vacuum. So get out there and turn your five senses loose to absorb input and spawn ideas. Use them to make your story come alive with inspiring characters that readers will appreciate and want to emulate.
What works for you to stimulate ideas? Where do you go for inspiration? What do you do to get beyond staring at a blank page?
Writers, are you stuck searching for inspiration and new ideas? Here are a few suggestions. Click to Tweet.
Great post, Mary…and yeah, best to bin the current-events-inspiration bit.
* I go to the Bible for inspiration; it carries all the stories we need, and its Holt Truth speaks just as rightly to millennials as it did to the ancient Israelites.
* More specifically, I generally base my stories, in one way or another, around my favourite character, Uriah the Hittite (whom I often, with fond irreverence, refer to as Uriah the Hippie). His story speaks to me, and I would rather meet my fate in his shoes than in David’s silken chambers.
* For what it may be worth, this bespeaks a philosophy I hold, if not dear, then at least true, and that is that inspiration has to fit personal paradigm. As an example, I’ve learned to watch the popular prime-time drama “This Is Us” with Barbara. It’s well-written, well-acted, and engaging…and for me it’s a bit like watching Eskimo Synchronized Swimming. The show’s culture is so far from my own that there’s no chance of a bridge, no possibility of any understanding save a certain friendly bemusement.
* I would love to be able to write to family and relationship issues that are nuanced, and marinated in enculturated emotion – I’m certainly not blind to the commercial appeal of a widely shared paradigm – but the questions in my heart are, “Why aren’t these people carrying sidearms?”, and,perhaps more tellingly, where’s the simplicity of loyalty, once expressed, being unto death, full stop?
* And the latter is what I’ve got to write, even if not a lot of people read it. Something like being inspired by what God made me to be.
Yes, I know. The Bible is Holy Truth, not ‘Holt Truth’. Sheesh. Quick fingers, glacial brain.
The Bible is Andrew’s place of inspiration. Prayer is mine. Prayer on wheels, actually. I talk with God as I drive to and from work. I often take a few moments in the parking lot to scribble key words on note cards, nailing down the thoughts. Otherwise, they slither away as my brain sorts through my hospital data and processes.
*A part of me yearns for a shorter commute, while another part fusses, “What, then, would I write?” And I think, like Andrew, “what I’ve got to write, what God made me to write.”
Kristen Joy Wilks
Yes, Uriah is one of my favorite Bible characters as well. Although, my husband put the kabosh … cabosh … Kcobosh … hmmm … my husband did not love the name as much as I and therefore none of our 3 sons are named Uriah, despite me making a case for that moniker.
Perhaps this works so well for me because I’m writing a series, but I find a new plot comes to me based on a secondary character in the one I’m currently writing. I flesh out even the minor characters in my mind, so they take on a life of their own as I write.
*A new plot spins out of their personalities and situations. When the germ of a plot sprouts, I’ll take the detour to outline the new plot and even write a few key scenes. If I don’t feel particularly keen on working on the main WIP, I’ll pick up one of the three that I’ve outlined and flesh out a scene for it that day.
*This is handy when writing the back material for you book. I already know what’s going to happen 8 years later to a particularly fun character in the one I’m bringing to market in late April/early May. I’m polishing the first chapter of that story to a high shine and will include it as a teaser in the back.
Kristen Joy Wilks
I’ve written new things in all the seasons, so I’m not sure that I have a favorite for writing … although with the boys home from school over the summer and a 7:00am staff meeting to attend every morning, summer is not my most productive time. It’s hard to get those kiddos to bed in time to get up at 4:00am when the sun goes down so late. But as for ideas, taking a walk in the woods and soaking up the amazing natural world as I bring my story before the Lord is so helpful. I know I’m not supposed to say this … but I have prayed for ideas and then been immediately blessed with something new. Not that those ideas are perfect or demand publication, but over and over again God has shown me that He cares, even for the small things, like me struggling to create a story.
I hear you, Kristen. God does answer many little prayers and sometimes immediately. I’ve prayed for crystals to grow out of solution big enough to do an experiment on (they very often form more like a powder). I know I’m not the total source of most of my stories. I’m not arrogant enough to think I can come up with a well-formed plot all by myself in an hour or two.
I pray … I beg … I watch. I watch and listen for people’s stories … because it might just be the spark I need.
Jennifer Zarifeh Major
Orrrrrrrrr Skyping with a friend? I hear that’s a great idea.
I have definitely found the value of taking a walk in the middle of the day…getting out of my house and breathing in the outside.
*Sometimes my inspiration comes from a bumper sticker (Hmmm, what kind of person would drive a pick up truck with a rifle rack and have a bumper sticker that says, “My schnauzer is smarter than your honor student?” Sometimes it is just taking a minute to flip something around and see it from different angles that helps come up with a fresh story idea. I’m still honing this skill because doing it means I have to take a few extra minutes to think about those angles.
*Sometimes I do take headlines and twist them around to see if there could be other angles (“Teen has Porsche for an hour before crashing it”). Now, what could I do with this? Lots of things. 🙂
*Great suggestions, Mary.
Jeanne, small world…you saw my truck!
Guffawing out loud!!! Actually . . . maybe Barb was driving it? It was very definitely a woman driving. 😉
That would be her style, Jeanne! 🙂
I may be a BAAAD influence…
Jennifer Zarifeh Major
That was not my teen!
How do I know? It didn’t say “ancient minivan”.
Janet Ann Collins
Often if I’m thinking – or worrying – about something as I fall asleep I’ll wake up the next morning with the answer in my mind. Once I actually woke up with a new poem, complete except for the last line, in my mind. From the pattern of the poem it was obvious what that line should be, and it was the answer to the guidance I’d been praying for the night before.
Jennifer Zarifeh Major
I’m “in between books” right now and am letting some ideas percolate. Or as my daughter says “marinate”.
I find inspiration in the history of the Southwest, from the writings at El Moro, to the empty dwellings of Canyon de Chelly.
But for right now, I’m letting things breathe.
Damon J. Gray
I also find my inspiration “from” the Bible rather than “in” it, and what I mean by that is that as I am reading and pondering, I have questions, and if I have questions, then that means there is something about which to write. For example, I was reading Galations 2:20 where Paul says he has been crucified with Christ, yet lives, and finishing by saying, “Christ lives in me.” In me? What does that look like? What does that even mean? How does that affect me? Does that make me different today than I was yesterday? The implications of such questions are far reaching, and the longer I pondered them and scratched notes in my notebook, it grew into a full-blown manuscript. All of that started with one question prompted by one verse of scripture.