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Writing 101: Finding Inspiration

Writing 101: Finding Inspiration

“I only write when I’m inspired, and I make sure I’m inspired every morning at 9 a.m.” – Peter De Vries

‘Where do you get your ideas?’

A question heard at least once in every writer’s career. The correct answer is, of course, ‘are you going to buy my book or not? You’re holding up the line.’

In truth, it’s a good question and one that’s often on my mind (usually when I’m supposed to be writing).

So, where DO we get our ideas?

They come from everywhere. They’re drawn from the world around us, from those within us, from the depths of our minds, from the exciting and the mundane. The trick is to recognise when we’re doing it. Finding ideas is easy; keeping them, on the other hand, is like platting fog. They’re intangible wisps which, when left uncaptured, burn up like nightmares on a dreamcatcher’s web.

I suppose the real question should be:

How do we know when we’re having an idea?

The truth is that it’s rarely clear cut. Eureka moments are as prevalent as unicorn droppings. Sometimes, all we have is a snatched snippet of overheard conversation, the briefest of thoughts on the periphery of our consciousness, something half-glimpsed from the corner of our eye; barely a trace of anything.

I recognise an idea as being anything that sparks the question “what if?” and anything that invokes that response is recorded in my notebook or note-taking software, on a napkin or the back of my hand – anywhere, so long as it’s recorded. It may be a complete idea or a fragmented shard that needs something more.

The act of finding inspiration is often mistaken as a being a passive process. I can count, on one hand, the number of times inspiration has found me. More often than not, it involves me actively searching for it. We have to be prepared to do the legwork, to get our hands dirty. We search, we hunt, we dig until our hands are sore and our nails are broken, and we keep on going.

How to find inspiration?

1. Read

Read everything you can get your hands on. Read newspapers. Read magazines. Read junk mail. Read books and stories, especially ones outside of your preferred genre. Taking ideas and situations from one world and putting them in another can have amazing results…don’t believe me? Take a look at Star Wars.

2. Question everything

Writers are curious creatures; we want to know everything. Why? What If? How? are all best friends to a writer. Never stop asking questions, who knows where the next one will lead?

3. Get out and observe

Leave the house, take a walk, do something to get you out in the larger world and while you’re there…observe everything. I don’t just mean with your eyes, either; use every sense. What is that smell? What does the ground feel like? People watch and listen to the conversations of others. Snippets of overheard speech are gold mines for idea hunters.

4. Use mind-maps and other brainstorming techniques

5. Look through old notebooks and unfinished work

Who knows what unpolished gems they hold?

6. Write

Just sit down and free write. Don’t think, just do. Write fan fiction, write garbage, write shopping lists, anything…just let the words come.

7. Carry a notebook and use it

It doesn’t have to be a physical notebook but have a way of capturing your ideas. Record everything that makes you ask a question.

Above all else remember, ideas travel in packs; don’t stop looking after you’ve found just one…

Anyway, I better go. Amanda is stood in the doorway rolling her eyes at me. The last time she did this, it took us over an hour to get them all back in the jar.

How do the rest of you search for ideas? Are you always aware when you do have an idea?

5 thoughts on “Writing 101: Finding Inspiration

  1. Sometimes i don’t know where my ideas come from until i stop and think about it. I had an idea this morning and i only really grasped that it was a good story idea when i got to work (and had breakfast which i guess woke me up a little). I got out my little desk drawer notebook and wrote it down so i wouldn’t forget. About an hour or two later, i realised that i had randomly come up with a story line which mixed up part of an episode of Lost Girl with an advert on TV. My mind had taken things it had seen on TV throughout the day, stuck them in a cocktail shaker with some vodka and ice and make me a delicious story idea martini while i slept.

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