Note: My Timeless Romance Anthology is now available! Get it HERE for Amazon or HERE for iTunes. Other purchase links below.
|Inspiration is like a pile of Lego blocks.|
Recently on Facebook, someone (I’m forgetting who, unfortunately) tagged me and several other writers to ask where we find our inspiration.
I wasn’t sure how to answer because the term inspiration can be defined in so many ways. Did she mean how do I find ideas? How do I find the inspired rush that drives me to the keyboard? Something else?
I never did get around to answering the question when it was posted, but it’s been tumbling around in my head for some time, so I thought I’d tackle it here from the perspective my 20+ years of writing seriously (plus another 15 of dabbling in it).
INSPIRATION AS AN IDEA GENERATOR
Finding things to write about is one type of inspiration. Finding ideas isn’t the hard part; they’re everywhere. Finding good ideas with a fresh angle that are interesting and worth pursuing is a big trickier. In my experience, the good ideas are the ones where at least two very different things suddenly come together in your head in a new way.
The trick is making yourself open to absorbing all kinds of input and then letting your brain play with the resulting stack of Lego idea bricks to see what kind of thing you can make with the new blocks you found.
The magic of a shiny new idea, at least for me, often happens when my brain takes two pieces of information that seem utterly unconnected, clicks them together like Lego pieces, and I suddenly have a shiny new “what if” scenario that gets me so excited I can’t stop thinking about it.
And you can’t plan for the kind of sudden click (or collision, however you look at it) of ideas. It happens unexpectedly, unpredictably. That’s part of the magic of the creative process.
So if you can’t pencil in that you’ll have a flash of brilliance at 1:34 PM on Tuesday when you need an idea, how exactly do you make sure you’ll have great ideas when you need them and that you won’t run out of them?
(1) Constantly Fill Your Well
Be aware of what’s around you. Soak it all in. Keep up with current events where you live and abroad. Read up on weird trivia. Read a lot: novels in your genre and outside it, nonfiction, magazines, and more. I’m not a fast reader, but I do read regularly and a wide variety of .
People watch then think of ways to describe that mannerism the man over there made. Or come up with a good (non-cliché) metaphor to describe the way the lake looks right now. This mental kind of game is especially big when I travel to a new place. I go out of my way to notice colors, smells, and sounds. I pay attention to how people behave. What the food is like. And so on. My creative inner child have fun with the building blocks. I have no way of knowing which details will eventually show up in a story, so I drink it all in. The more that’s in the well, the more variety of Lego blocks my mind has to play with and land on an unexpected combination.
When I’m in a new place, I take pictures to trigger my memory. I take notes that day but often after the fact rather than in the moment so I don’t miss noticing anything, and so I can immerse myself in an experience.
By filling your well up with outside stimuli, you’re giving your creative subconscious the Lego blocks it needs if it’s going to build something cool. Be sure to give it plenty of supplies for the job.
Other ideas: Read and watch the news and imagine scenarios from the victims’ perspective and from the perpetrator’s. Law enforcement’s, too. Watch news magazine shows and imagine what really went on in those people’s lives. Sometimes I get ideas from songs, but that’s usually on road trips when I’m listening to the same album over and over because a child insists on it, and because the long hours of open road let my mind wander.
Mental wandering, I’ve found, is key to landing on great ideas. Mundane chores and activities are fabulous for letting the creative mind meander through the creative well so it will come back with ideas. That kind of wandering rarely yields fruit if you’re stressed out and trying to force it.
I’ve had ideas (and even solutions to big plot problems) pop into my head while mowing the lawn, doing dishes, vacuuming, sorting laundry, drying my hair, taking a shower, and (as mentioned already) driving long distances. Note that in all of those activities, chances are, I am in a relaxed state, and in many of them I am physically moving. For me, those elements are often key for the best brainstorming.
In contrast, the more I try to force an idea to show up RIGHT NOW, the more likely my creative brain will panic and retreat.
(2) Make Yourself a Small Box and Get Inside It.
A completely different way of being inspired with new ideas came about for me after I joined forces with Heather B. Moore and Sarah M. Eden with the Timeless Romance Anthology series. Each story I write for the series has a specific theme on top of being either historical or contemporary (very different animals themselves). We’ve consistently put out 3 to 4 collections a year for some time now, so I always have another novella deadline around the corner.
That sounds pretty terrifying, but as it turns out, the thematic requirements haven’t been restrictive; they’ve been utterly freeing.
It reminds me of a board game that some family members were chosen to be beta testers for. They brought it to a family dinner, and we all played. The game had cards with abstract shapes and lines all over them, and depending on how things went, sometimes you could get points for finding any object on a card, or you had to find objects belonging to a specific category (fruits, vehicles, school supplies). At first, we assumed that the free-for-all turns would be easier because no object was off limits. But without exception, the free-for-all turns were when we all choked, unable to see much of anything.
But give us a specific category, and we could spot pictures everywhere (Look! Grapes! That’s a pineapple. I found an apple, orange, and strawberry. Ooh, a pear!) And on it went. The more specific the requirement, the easier it was for our minds to see patterns.
My experience with the anthologies has been similar: If someone were to tell me to write a short story or novella about anything at all, in any genre, right now, that could be tricky. But give me clear parameters (e.g. a paranormal historical romance set during Halloween, like our next Timeless collection will be), and suddenly, ideas start popping up all over the place.
Case in point: A few months ago, knowing I needed to write my All Hallows’ Eve story, I drove past a cool old church at night. I noticed a light on above a door, coming through the window above it. Immediately, I thought of how cool it would be if there were a ghost in the building, and I was seeing its light through the window.
As I drove on (likely to pick up a child from some activity), I knew I’d landed on the seed of the story that will be in that collection. The story itself didn’t show up until later, after I toured the church and another local historic site, but I knew the story would involve a ghost and that church window. (See the news below about when to expect that collection!)
Quite often, the smaller the box you must work inside, the easier the ideas come to fill it. If you don’t have a box given to you from an outside source, create one. Look online for writing prompts to create a box. You may find a new book idea, or you may have fun with a writing exercise. Either way, it’s worth your time.
INSPIRATION TO ACTUALLY WRITE
This is another way of defining inspiration, and it’s a different ball of wax entirely. I’d go so far as to say that for the most part, it’s a myth.
Sure, writers all have moments of feeling drawn to the keyboard, and those moments are probably what first lit the excitement inside us about writing in the first place. But those moments are usually fleeting and spaced far apart.
Life gets in the way (so does the internet and so many other things), and then the writing doesn’t happen. If you write only when inspiration strikes, it’ll take you fifteen years (or more) to finish the first draft a project. Along the way, you’ll probably take several detours by starting ten other shiny new projects . . . without finishing any of them, either.
A truth: Often getting a writing session started is the hardest part. The muse, the inspiration, simply isn’t there. Even after writing for as long as I have, getting down to work can be a battle. I know that if I force myself to start pounding out words, and especially if I give myself permission to have those words be garbage instead of feeling the pressure to make them all perfect, then within fifteen minutes, I will almost certainly slip into the magic of flow. The inspiration will show up, and the writing session will become productive and even fun.
The order of those events is key: Before inspiration to write strikes, you have to start writing without it.
I have to work without out any inspiration or excitement, at least at first. I have to force myself to write, knowing that the only way out is through. Sometimes I’ve put in the work, and every word was dragged out of my fingers kicking and screaming. That can happens for days or weeks or months at a time, so I start thinking that I really do suck at this thing, and I’ll never feel the creative rush again.
But if I keep showing up and producing words, the inspiration eventually does show up, and suddenly, I never I remember why I do this crazy thing, and I never want to leave the keyboard.
That feeling is pretty darn amazing. But it’s not something I can sit around waiting for. It won’t come that way. You show up first. The muse will eventually see that you really do take your writing seriously. As a result, it will start to show up at a certain time because she knows she can count on you to already be there.
For more on inspiration and writing, I highly recommend Elizabeth Gilbert’s TED talk on the subject. I’ve watched it several times over the years, and I get something new from it every time.
THREE PIECES OF EXCITING NEWS!
FIRST: On August 3, watch for the release of the All Hallows’ Eve collection from Timeless Romance Anthologies, featuring guest contributors Elana Johnson, Jordan McCollum, and Lisa Mangum, in addition the three of us who appear in each volume (Heather B. Moore, Sarah M. Eden, and yours truly). Find its beautiful and creepy cover HERE. This is where my ghost story will published!
SECOND: The next volume after that celebrates the Christmas season: Under the Mistletoe will be released mid-October, in time for readers to enjoy it in the weeks leading up to the holiday season. Here's the link to the cover reveal. We have some great guest authors on board for it!
THIRD, AND FOR THE MOMENT, MOST IMPORANTLY:
The Annette Lyon Collection from Timeless Romance Anthologies is LIVE, and the reviews are starting to come in. Snag it now from Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, or iTunes, and watch for the blog tour later this month.