Saturday, July 6, 2013
Inspiration Is Not So Hard to Find
I’ve found that inspiration doesn’t seem to be a problem for a lot of writers, but I still wanted to talk about it. I’ve been cursed with an overabundance of inspiration. So many would ask how that's a curse? It’s a double-edged sword, both blessing and curse, and here’s why.
I have so many ideas that I doubt I will ever EVER run out of writing fodder. I would venture to say that if I never got another burst of inspiration, another idea, I could probably go the rest of the natural life on the backlogged ideas I already have. Not that I’d want to. Theoretically, you could write forever on one idea, just thinking about it different ways. But that’s a different topic.
New scenarios come so quickly and so often that I can easily fall into the “I Can’t Finish” trap (see http://afgrappin.blogspot.com/2013/04/escaping-i-cant-finish-trap.html for that post). If I want to actually be productive and get things done, I can’t immediately act on my newest idea and start developing it or writing it. I can only be working on so many outlines, projects, or short stories at a time. And when I finally have some open space in my workload to start a new project, I have a lot to choose from. But picking one is so hard! I want all these ideas to live!
Before I go on, I want to clearly define what I consider inspiration, or more importantly, an idea. I'm not talking about inspiration as being the desire to sit and write. So many people think writers spend hours in dimmed rooms waiting for inspiration to strike. Writing isn't really like that, and I'm not really referencing the act of writing or "waiting for the muse to strike." I'm talking about inspiration as getting ideas of what to write.
Any element that can be written or folded into a story, I consider an idea worth writing down. This could be as simple as an idea for a title, a really cool line for a character to say, a setting, or even a full plot complete with conflict and resolution. I don’t discriminate. Everything is worth writing down and saving for another time. It’s the same as saving pennies. They may not look like much, but I always pick up stray pennies when I find them on the ground. Just saying.It adds up.
So yes, I am one of those people that always has a notepad and pen with me. Or sticky notes. Or a scrap of paper that, once the idea is scribbled onto it, I cram into my wallet and transfer to my notebook later. And I still end up losing ideas forever because I can’t get them down in time. But I still manage to save tons of ideas in my little notebook. Those pages are filled with little entries like
Culture: The working class and upper class of a society are separated by a language barrier. Only the upper class are bilingual. So what happens when an intelligent commoner begins to understand the language the nobles use?
Think About It: What must it be like to know that you were bred to die, that your birth was specifically engineered and planned? How could you deal with knowing that you were born for one task, trained your whole life to carry it out, and that task will kill you?
Basically, what I’m saying is if something tickles your writing senses, hang onto it. Get a notebook or a stack of index cards, a file in your word processor or a pad of post-its. Whatever. You never know when you might want an idea, even just a tiny tidbit to pull you out of a plot slump. Nothing is too small to make a difference. Imagine needing a nickel to buy your hamburger. A small amount can make a big difference in enjoying a delicious bacon cheeseburger or going hungry. And where do you usually find that nickel? Stuck in between the carseats. In a forgotten place. Consider this idea stockpiling like hiding nickels for yourself.
So where the heck is all this wondrous inspiration coming from? I wish I could say just one place, that there was a magical switch in my brain that I flipped when I wanted an idea. That’s just not the case. It’s both simpler and more complex than that. To date, I’ve gotten inspiration from dreams to TV and movies to books to casual conversations with friends.And everywhere in between
For those of you who do have problems finding ideas, who get that itch and just can’t find that long stick with the fingers to scratch it (yes, I know it’s called a backscratcher), I’m going to break down my sources into two categories: Passive and Active Inspiration.
I would guess passive inspiration gives me about 60-70% of my ideas. I’m just going about life, and BOOM! Hello, idea. These passive ideas are the ones I get from media, conversations, or just idle thoughts. For example, I was reading a fantasy series that included spellcasters. While still in the mindset of that series, I heard or saw something about mentioning Christopher Columbus’s journey to the Americas. The thoughts melded. What if Columbus came to the Americas and took the natives back to Europe with him… but didn’t know they could do magic?! Idea! I hadn’t been looking for it, but there it was.
Don’t be afraid to look at something and ask: what could I do with this? This starts to get into active inspiration, but don’t make yourself go digging into everything you’re watching or reading for ideas. Relax, and let them come to you. Believe me, they’ll strike your brain and resonate so that you can’t ignore them. We’ve all had that idea flash, even if it’s just for the name of an actor you couldn’t remember a few hours ago. That spark will come with an idea. HURRY AND WRITE IT DOWN! They tend to disappear as quickly as they strike.
So that book you’re reading has a brotherhood of monks that have some magical powers. While or after reading, don’t be afraid to let your thoughts wander about that brotherhood and put those monks into your own scenarios. While reading that book, did you maybe suspect that the reclusive brother is actually a woman in disguise? So that's not how things go in the book, but YOU could write that story.
Or you might see a sort of character you want to see more of. The small-town kid gets called off on an adventure, leaving her family behind. What the heck does her mother do after she leaves? Everyone has a story. Feel free to tell the stories of the side or supporting characters in works you've already written.
Be open to questions. Let your mind ask them, and then write them down. The answer could end up being a whole new novel.
Active Inspiration, as I do it, is easier to do, but it’s a little less personal, in that it doesn’t really spawn from your brain like passive ideas do. You can start pointedly looking for the kinds of ideas you get from passive sources, scouring TV shows, books, and movies for ideas, or thinking through conversations with friends and digging through every sentence for inspiration. I don’t really do that, but there is value in looking deeper.
Mostly, I use active inspiration to get an idea fast, usually if I need to do a short story but don’t have any short fiction ideas. Most of the ideas in my notebook would better lend themselves to novels. I think big, and it can cause problems when I want to keep things small.
For active inspiration, I often look to prompts. There are tons of sites that have plot, theme, title, character, or first line generators (and then some). There are sites for short story competitions based on prompts. Keep in mind that YOU DON’T HAVE TO ENTER THE CONTEST! You’re free to just use the prompt if you want to. Of these sorts of sites, I like http://everyphototells.com/ and http://www.thefirstline.com/index.htm. Check them out! I haven’t really looked into a lot of others yet.
Then there are the generators. My favorite place to go is http://www.seventhsanctum.com/. This site has a humongous variety of generators, everything from tavern names to alien race descriptions to writing challenges. Out of one of these generators I got the prompt “The legend of King Midas as a horror story”. The result was my short story “Aureus Manu”, found here: http://afgrappin.blogspot.com/2013/04/aureus-manu.html. Be as free as you want. Take what you need from the prompts, what you can use, and shove the rest away.
The other active inspiration I use is exploring. There is a world of literature out there. I tend to write fantasy, mostly because it’s what I’ve been reading most of my life, and I don’t have to do research into science or location. I get to make all that up on my own. But if you’re into genre fiction, there are tons of genres to explore. So why not spread your wings and and play around outside of your comfort zone? I’ve recently started tinkering with steampunk and urban fantasy. But I either have touched or have barely explored superhero fiction, westerns, sci-fi, crime drama, mystery, and tons of other stuff. What rocks is that you can tailor any idea to any genre. Let me repeat that. YOU CAN TAILOR ANY IDEA TO ANY GENRE! You just need to be creative. And, even more fun, you can mess around with genres. Who says that steampunk has to be set in a Victorian era? Imagine prehistoric steampunk. There’s already arcanepunk and dieselpunk. Have fun!
So go out and find your ideas, or just let your brain bring them to you. Inspiration is not elusive. The muses may play hide-and-seek, but they suck at it. You just have to allow yourself to notice them. Write things down, and if you never use them, no one has to know. But what will matter is you’ll always have something to write.