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Friday, October 15, 2010

Waiting for Inspiration

“You can’t wait for inspiration. You have to go after it with a club.” - Jack London

Do we have to be truly inspired to produce inspired/wonderful writing, or is any idea that you plug away at good enough, as long as the actual writing passes inspection?

I go back and forth on the level of inspiration present in my writing ideas…obviously they come from somewhere, but I currently have a big fat backlog of plot possibilities, most of which will never see the light of my laptop screen. Why? Because I make a point every now and then to sit my booty down and come up with ideas. I don’t get up until I have ten thoughts, no matter how useful or trivial they might be.

Not all of them are what I'd call inspired—they might just be random words that pop into my head and get scribbled down (boy scouts/aliens/Area 51, ship/ghosts/school trip, historical candle shop/fire/runaway, etc.). Like I said, most of these end up trashed, but some of them might come in handy one day. In the meantime, I feel much more comfortable waiting for inspiration when I’m working on something else. I can let it come naturally without feeling stressed out.

My conundrum here is that perhaps all of my writing is not “inspired.” Does working at trying to find inspiration negate/cheapen the term? Sometimes I feel a little guilty about that, like I get my ideas in forced ways rather than through some huge epiphany. With that in mind, I went searching the blogosphere for inspiring articles on how to find inspiration (I’ve said it before, I’m right-brained). Here are some ideas for anyone who might be looking for their next project:

Historical figures- You don’t have to glean an entire plot line from a specific time period, but think about some historical figures and what made them stand-out people. Maybe you could fashion a 12-year-old middle grade protagonist from Antarctic explorer Ernest Shackleton’s characteristics, utilizing his qualities as a leader, motivator and overall badass. Maybe you could give a modern high school girl Amelia Earhart’s personality and have her deal with a sexist teacher. There are lots of fun possibilities here.

Travel- For those of us without a travel budget, magazines and internet searches are useful. Sometimes simply learning about a new environment can spark an idea.

Movies- You never know when a scene will trigger a writing thought…plus, it’s an excellent excuse to take a break. Forcing yourself to write all the time may lead to meeting deadlines, but it can also lead to resentment of the thing you love.

Grocery Stores-Not only are these great places for people watching and cart-peeping, but there are a bunch of items that could possibly be your next book (Vegetable section=farm book, Red Bull/Energy Drinks section=Hyper Teenager book, Frozen Fish section=Boston Harbor setting, Bread section=Family Bakery book, Frozen Pizza section=Me overindulging in frozen pizza book…you get the idea)

Those are just a few—I listed some links in the upper right of this blog that might be helpful too.

The most powerful ideas can come along when we least expect it. While I’m waiting for that big idea though, I force myself to do the list thing as an exercise in creativity and stretching the old brain muscles. If you find yourself in a writing funk, you might be better off forgetting inspiration for a minute and sticking with a good old fashioned stubborn attitude. As one speaker said at the RMFW Conference, “I get up dutifully at six o'clock every morning to wait for inspiration. If it hasn’t turned up by five past, I start without it.”

In the end, I do believe that inspired writing can come from an idea that might not be designated as pure inspiration. Any thoughts on the matter?

Have a great weekend!

**By the way, please don't take this post as an indication that I'm bitter/anti-inspiration as a whole--I'm all for it!**


  1. Wow, great post! I have often pondered the whole inspiration thing, too. My whole life I have only managed to come up with four ideas of a novel, and two short stories. I'm about to start novel #3, so I'm starting to sweat it. When I am going to get an inspiration again? I have no problem generating ideas for scenes once I have an overall plot idea, but those big ideas! They don't come often! Most of mine have come from dreams.

    So this post was an encouragement for me. I really do believe you can come up with great ideas by working - mind-mapping, clustering, writing prompts, etc. And I LOVE that quote at the end! I've heard the Jack London one before, but the other one is great too. Copying it down.

  2. I usually don't have to worry about finding inspiration. I have more story ideas than I'll ever use. Some popped into my head, some are from using different idea-generating methods, and some are just from freewriting.

    For example, a week or so ago, I decided that I needed to warm-up for NaNo by writing with Write or Die. But first I needed something to write about. I procrastinated for a while, until something popped into my head about a girl waking up in an interrogation room. I wrote about 700 words and then set it aside, but in the future I want to turn that idea into a novel.

  3. Margo- Glad you liked the second quote (I wrote it down right after the presenter said it, because it really hit home for me). Congratulations on starting novel #3!

    Brittany--what a great exercise, and now you have another novel idea??? You're awesome!

  4. You always give the greatest ideas on your blog, and this post is no different. Inspiration is really tricky. For one of my books, I had no idea what I was doing when I started. I kept writing around the story until I finally found it. But for another one, I daydreamed the whole thing into being in a couple of days. Having come up with the idea, I still had to work hard to get it down on paper though.

    I love the second quote too, and I'm looking forward to checking out the links. Thank you!

  5. I'll admit, I am lazy when it comes to this. I tend to let ideas come to me while I'm out hiking. This is a great post.