Sometimes one of the most elusive things to chase down as a writer, is inspiration. Whether it’s coming up with a great idea for a new story, or working your way around being stuck on one you’re halfway finished, how do you get inspired?
I’ve been writing in some form or another for basically my whole life, there’s almost always some type of story in my head that I need to get out and on paper but I still very often fall victim to the dreaded lack of inspiration. Part of this is the misguided idea that I need to think of a great idea before starting to write, which doesn’t always work out so well and can often leave me going days or weeks without writing anything because “I have no ideas!”
But the thing is, inspiration can be found in so many places. And a funny thing I’ve noticed over the years is that the more open you are to finding inspiration, the more places you will start to notice it.
So here are some of the greatest sources of inspiration that I use the most often:
Other Books. There’s a quote from Stephen King that I really love that goes:
“If you don’t have time to read, you don’t have the time (or the tools) to write. Simple as that.”– Stephen King
and I’ve really taken that to heart. Honestly before I had even heard this quote, it seemed like a logical connection to me. If you want to be a good writer, doesn’t it make sense to immerse yourself in the words of others, and get a good feel for what works, what doesn’t, and what might be something you can incorporate into your own writing? I read as often as possible and a lot of the time those books I read give me ideas for stories of my own. Now the thing, of course, isn’t ever to copy anyone else’s stories or style but rather to let your imagination take over and craft something of your own. Sometimes a fun creative writing exercise is to take an existing story and then rewrite parts of it the way we wish it had gone. 50 Shades of Grey started out as Twilight fan fiction after all, and look how that ended up! (probably a bad example, as I personally think 50 Shades is a terrible book, but I digress.) And even though I mentioned you shouldn’t be copying someone else’s style, it can be a valuable exercise to experiment with styles outside of your own to get a feel for what you might like writing.
(Just as a side note before any writers who don’t read very much get offended and think I’m saying they’re not good writers because of that. I’m truly not. The Mr. King quote above may imply that, and I have taken that to heart for MYSELF, but if it’s not true for you, it’s not true for you, and that’s perfectly fine.)
JUST START WRITING. Journaling/Brain Dump/Just Write! As I said at the beginning of this post, sometimes the thing holding me back from getting any writing done is the fact that I believe I have nothing to write so I don’t bother to start. I’ve found the best way to handle this is to just start writing, even if what you write is crap. So set a timer (if it help) and sit down and just start writing. Anything that comes into your head, write it down. It might start out as a grocery list and quickly turn into the beginning of your next novel or you might start outlining a story idea and have it evolve into something else entirely. I like to remind myself, and others, of the quote:
“You can always edit a bad page. You can’t edit a blank page.”– Jodi Picoult
because even though it seems so obvious, it’s really easy to forget and get stuck in that “I have nothing to write!” writers block space that can stretch out for months. So just get some words out. You can fine tune them and shape them into the story they’re meant to be later. You might start out with a short, ridiculous story about rival goldfish competing in a race, that eventually turns into the next Game of Thrones. You have no idea of the potential yet.
I very often find a lot of my ideas pop up in my head as I’m already writing. It’s as if the act of writing itself is my creative trigger.
Music. Not long ago, I wrote a blog post about some different resources to use for creating a writing playlist or soundtrack, and I briefly touched on using music as a source of inspiration. This can be a pretty useful way to jump start your creativity. This is a great time to listen to those songs with lyrics that you might avoid while actually writing, since they tend to have more of a distinct message to be inspired by. So pick a song, or a themed playlist, and try to write a short story based on your interpretation of the lyrics.
Pinterest or other mood boards. Did you know I create (private) mood boards for every story I work on? I do! It’s one of my favourite ways to get myself in the right mood for writing a certain story. I’m a very visual person and so having pictures that evoke the kind of imagery I want in my story is really helpful to me. If I’m stuck and I can’t think of what to write, it can help to just look at picures of the faces, clothing or scenery that look like elements and characters in my story and let my imagination go wild. A lot of the time when I’m writing (if I’m not on my laptop) I’ll have my Pinterest board for my story up on one screen and the document I’m working on up on the other screen and that’s how I work.
Writing Prompts. I don’t use writing prompts as much as I should, but they can be a really great tool to get you started. You can find great prompts in many places, I have a couple books of prompts that I use sometimes. Writing Prompts on Instagram is obviously a really great account with a ton of ideas that could help you get going.
Your Dreams. Two of the most recent stories I started working on came from dreams I had. The tricky thing about dreams is that you obviously need to be able to remember them for them to be an effective source of inspiration. One thing I do sometimes is keep a notebook (or my phone – I know, bad!) near my bed so if I wake up in the middle of the night (which I do often) I can jot down a few of the details that I remember from whatever I dreamt. More often than not I’m way too groggy to do this effectively though and all I want to do is get back to sleep so another option is to do an early morning Brain Dump. Basically just sit down as soon as you’re awake enough to function and write down as many details as you can, or if it works better for you, make yourself an audio recording. It’s not foolproof, but until technology gets us to a place where we can record our dreams this is the best that I got.
Those are my usual sources of inspiration, what are yours? Do you use any of the same ones I do or do you take a completely different approach? Leave me a comment and let me know!