Where does a writer get inspiration from?
I understand this is a very common question asked of authors.
I wish I could say a fan asked me this, prompting this very post.
But that didn’t happen.
I just feel it’s a question I should probably practise answering — just in case, when I am world famous, a fan does ask.
The Regular Sparks
Just about every author worth their salt has been asked about their source of imaginings.
And, I’ve noticed, there are some answers that keep coming up again and again.
These are the more conventional sources of inspiration — and they are also true for me.
Reading books — both within and outside of your preferred genre — is a major place to get inspired.
I have frequently felt my creative essences surge while reading a piece by an author that I love — and even by an author I don’t.
I have based some of my own writings directly on something I’ve read — at times, more blatantly than others.
Frequently, it’s a mash-up of single inspirational sparks from all manner of books that light the fire.
Visiting an art gallery is another good source.
I think it’s good to view art in forms other than that in which you primarily create.
Paintings, sculptures, ceramics, even video installations have fueled my imagination and turned up in my stories.
Everything from a shade of colour, to a timbre of sound, to an image fragment have all had inspiration drawn from wanderings through art galleries.
If real galleries are a problem for you, there are a host of virtual ones online nowadays to browse.
Movies are another source of inspiration.
Blockbusters are great for getting a sense of how to write a good story — and sometimes how to avoid writing a bad story.
But they — and, often for me, their independent counterparts — are fantastic sources for creativity too.
Once again, it’s about getting struck by that lightning bolt of inspiration.
And it only takes a snatch of cinematic scenery or an expression on a character’s face or a turn of narrative phrase to get me going.
In a way, all art is mimicry — I can’t imagine there are many artists from across the millennia who have created in complete and utter isolation from all other art.
We find the things that are pleasing in what we are familiar with in order to drive us onto the next creation.
The Unconventional Sparks
But, to ensure we aren’t just copying the work of someone before us, we need to find other sources for inspiration.
(Don’t get me wrong, there is nothing wrong with copying the art of someone whose work you love and respect — this is fantastic practise for your craft.
And what better way to learn than on something you love — like learning to cook by first copying your favourite chocolate chip cookie recipe.)
Music (which, if you’re a regular reader of my blog, you will know plays a massive part of my creativity) is a big source for me.
Lyrics can inspire me, as can a rhythm or melody.
But often it is just the mood a piece of music imbues in me — making my heart race or wrench — that is the biggest inspiration.
Getting the right music is very important during my creative process.
Likewise, a good podcast can inspire.
Aside from podcasts on the craft of writing, I frequently listen to podcasts on science, history, technology, law, and a smattering of other subjects.
This is where I get a number of my so-called ‘gee-whizz’ ideas from — exercising my what-if muscles.
What if that aspect of the Hanover royal court were mashed-up with that quirk of ancient Babylonian law or the ability to manipulate DNA?
Sure, most of ideas hit the recycle bin fairly quickly — but occasionally some stick.
Another source for me is listening to other people talk.
I am rarely an active leader in conversations at work or social gatherings or with family and friends, preferring instead to simply listen.
I love hearing other peoples’ use of language — the words they choose, their accents and vernacular, their body language.
It is all, as they say, grist for the mill.
Characters come alive when they feel three-dimensional, and language is a very good means to mould the clay on their bones.
You need to search beyond ordinary sources for creativity in order to create something that is itself beyond ordinary.
The Outlandish Sparks
And to make your writing extraordinary, you need to take finding inspiration to the next level.
But that doesn’t mean you have to break your back to find exceptional sources.
Doing the everyday, mundane tasks that make up your life is great fuel for creativity.
And by mundane, I mean doing the ironing or mowing the lawn or sitting in traffic on the way to work — all the stuff we do simply to get what we want from life, where we want it and when.
I primarily write horror (in case you weren’t aware).
And one of the things that, to my mind, makes great horror is the juxtaposition of the ordinary against the horrific — this makes the monster so much more believable.
The nuances of a character making an everyday breakfast makes the creature that suddenly emerges from the fridge seem less intangible.
Patterns in the world around us are another unlikely source.
My writing tends to be rich with descriptions — the textures and aromas and songs of the world in which my characters exist.
And so, I am always on the lookout for natural patterns in the world around me — the uniform lean of a field of wind-swept flowers, for instance, or the echoed calls of black cockatoos as they travel up a valley, or even the burnt-sugar smell of spilt tomato soup on a cooktop.
Each one has potential to turn up briefly in my writing, making the world feel more solid.
Lastly, and still most surprising to me, even after years of writing, one of the greatest means to stimulate your imagination is doing nothing.
I am a firm believer that writers do not need to be writing every single free moment of the day.
All writers — indeed, all creatives — need time to do nothing else except ferment their ideas.
It’s a laboured metaphor, I know, but like good wine or cheese, the ingredients of an idea need time to transform into something greater than the sum of its parts.
For me, that time is my (almost) daily walk around the hills near my home, or sitting in the back garden, listening to the chickens scratch and cluck away and cloud-watching.
Its still surprises me that some of these quantum leaps in inspiration, for me at least, come doing very little.
I guess I’m trying to illustrate that inspiration can be gleaned from literally anywhere.
Every writer is, in many ways, the same; but is also, in many more ways, different.
It is up to each and every one of you to find your creative sparks where you can.
The trick, I think, is to remain open all the time, and listen to your writer’s brain when it perks up.
If you’re a true artist/creative, you will know — you will just feel it.
Where’s your strangest source of inspiration?
All images from pixabay.com
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