What Inspires Me?

>> Friday, November 20, 2009

Project Savior (who isn't interested in the prize) gave me a great idea for a blog post, perhaps the kind of inspiration good for more than one: what inspires me.

You know it's interesting. One reason I don't read "how to write" books is that they seem to be largely concerned with "how to get ideas." How to get ideas? Are you kidding me? Why would be be interested in writing anything if you didn't have something to say?

I never run out of ideas (for fiction) because, for me, fiction is all about playing what if.

What's cool about what if is that anything can trigger it. It might be triggered, like "Backseat Driver" was by an off-hand comment, about the irritating cars that say things like "Your door is ajar." (As in "What if the car was really irritating and did stuff like criticize your driving?") It could be a term I like like "codeslinger" used by a programmer I know or the image of a programmer dealing with multiple screens and systems at one time. Combine that with a notion of growing organs in space (something I actually worked with in reality), and the premise all but lands in my lap.

It might be something in history that inspired me, which is how I wrote the epic poem "Memtaz Majal." History clearly influences much of my work - I love history - as do images that call to me. I just wrote about a temple inspired by the Taj Majal because, hey, it's beautiful. Sometimes, an image or a picture is all you want to convey, and the story just comes along afterwards.

But other thing can trigger it. Books or movies I like can trigger it. Sometimes, it's a book that's wonderful or that touches me. It might be characteristics that draw me that I feel compelled to showcase myself - usually in a completely different venue with a different history or characteristics - except retaining those particular features I was charmed by. For instance, enjoying a character who's slick, capable, and self-confident in an a post-apocolyptic world probably means that I'll enjoy playing with a self-confident, capable and sarcastic character in a sword and sorcery environment.

But, even more inspiring for me is a potential that just isn't used. A character or premise with potential that was squandered will often inspire me to write a story the way I think it should have been written. I'm not talking about rewriting that story; I'm talking about creating a story inspired but what the other story lacked. Believe me, that's different.

Sometimes, I'll be honest, I have no idea where something comes from. Many of the things that have brought a floundering story together (or made it far more entertaining) were things I effectively pulled from my, well, you know.

Some ideas simmer literally for years until the right inspirations hit to put them all together. Some come to me almost fully formed and it's all I can do to type them fast enough. But I try to capture the essence of those ideas so that I can always go back later.

It's got to be my story, or I shouldn't be telling it. But I seriously don't think that's been a problem. I know I love telling them and love playing what if, as tickled by the journey as anyone who reads it.


  • Roy

    Interesting! it's always good to see what kicks a writer off. As a photographer, my answer is fairly easy - whatever catches my eye! Which is why the camera goes with me whenever I go out the door, no matter how short the trip - there's always something waiting to happen that you need to catch.

  • Shakespeare

    I tend to be most inspired by dreams and pictures/art. My first novel came from a recurrent dream I had for years--when I was 11 or so, all the way to around 20. The second came from the biblical Noah story, but it was inspired by pictures of a flooded town in Kansas. The third came from the ghost research I did of real hauntings--from one ghost in particular, and I even named the novel's ghost after the one in the house.

    The one I am mulling over (to be begun once my current revising session is over) came from a student art paper, believe it or not, of a mermaid. It's calling to me, but I have to finish my revision first. I hope to spend most of today and tomorrow on it... and the rest of the week, if it takes that long.

    Honestly, just a phone conversation, or a single sentence coming out of a friend's mouth, can inspire everything. I find that life inspires my writing--places, people, words, phrases, situations. Like you, I am never without ideas waiting to burst out of me.

    If only I had the time to spend on all of them!

  • Jeff King

    The moment I put thought to words, in the attempt to bring forth what was hidden. A light flashed in my mind, so faint yet strong enough to know the light must be feed to grow.
    No matter how hard I try and neglect it, I’m forced to feed it. Inspiration grew without effort imaginations leads me down the path of understanding, words become life and life become the flame…

    In so many words, inspiration is something that I can explain. I assume like all writers, we try and justify what we do, but deep down we are driven to do it. Regardless of thought, or any premeditation of content we push on. Those that do probably give up…

    People inspire me to share my story, and people inspire me in ways I craft my stories. But regardless I would have to write about the stories that come to me across the dark void, whether anyone would want to read them or not…

    It’s a door I opened and feel I can never close… like a force pushing me onwards with my permission or not…

  • The Mother

    I don't read self help books of any kind, let alone about writing.

    I did pick up "No Plot, No Problem" years ago. I read it.

    I can assure you, however, that not having a plot is indeed a problem. So I sort of didn't get much out of it. I'm afraid that is my usual experience with self help books.

    As for ideas, mine usually come from science blurbs--studies, reviews. And history--those who do not remember the past are doomed to repeat it. Usually in thrillers.

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