Writing Advice: Finding Inspiration

A frequent question writers and other creatives receive is “Where do you find inspiration?” Often, the querent wants to know the inspiration for a particular work. And that’s fair. I’ll be talking a little bit about that in this post, specifically with my current work in progress, Crossroad Blues. But today, I want to talk about inspiration in general and where one can find it.

So, sing to me, O Muse! Traditionally, inspiration was thought to come from divine sources: the Muses, gods of poetry, or even the Holy Spirit (see John Milton’s Paradise Lost). Honestly, the advice I think this offers is to get out of your own head and experience the world around you. Because inspiration comes from everywhere.

What? That isn’t helpful? You’re right, it’s not. So let me be more helpful. There is no “place” for finding inspiration; it comes from a multitude of sources. To find that inspiration, a writer (we’re going to focus on inspiration for writing, as that’s what I do) must be open to seeing possibilities in people, places, ideas, objects, and concepts. And from there, ask yourself what stories do these things tell?

Example

Let’s say you’re in a meeting at work. The new supervisor comes in and starts the meeting with a speech designed to boost morale and motivation. While this person speaks, you notice the following: the trouser legs pool on the floor over and around their shoes; their hands are always in their pockets; at least once every three sentence, they reach over and scratch their neck right at the point where their collar sits; and when finished, they hurry to their seat after introducing the person who will give the quarterly report.

Well, this is dull and tedious. It’s work. That’s fair. But let’s think about this person as a character. What do these details suggest?

  • The Trouser Legs Pooling around the Shoes: Okay, the trousers are too long. Why would someone in a position of power be wearing clothes that don’t fit? Are they hand-me-downs from a parent, suggesting nepotism or rising from a lower socioeconomic status? Did the person buy the wrong size at the last minute, suggesting impulsivity, lack of forethought, perhaps neurodivergence? Did the person order them online and not have time to get them hemmed? Was the online order inaccurate? Did the person not know to measure their inseam or not do it correctly (as it can be a challenge to do by oneself)? Was the supervisor running late and grabbed their roommate’s trousers by mistake? Any of these scenarios gives us some bit of knowledge about character and possible internal and external conflicts that could inspire all or part of a narrative.
  • Hands Always in Pockets: This could mean a sign of nervousness. In the U.S., hands in the pockets is taken to be a sign of nervousness, possibly lack of preparedness, etc. This is a character emotion, so we should ask why this person is nervous. Are they new to the position? Do they feel unqualified? Is it imposter syndrome? Is it due to being gifted this position by a family member who owns the company? Were they a controversial choice for the position? Is there a personal scandal (arrest, rumored infidelity, rumored embezzlement, etc.) that has caused a lack of confidence in them?
  • Repeated Neck Scratching at the Collar: Why this habit that is associated both with nervousness and potential dishonesty? Why are they nervous? What, if anything, are they hiding? Is there something they want to avoid saying?
  • Hurrying to the Seat after Finishing: Why did they hurry to sit down? Are thy simply a nervous speaker? That’s quite common. Did they not want to speak at the meeting? If so, why not?

The list I’ve given here is by no means exhaustive, but it does open the door of possibility to use this person’s performance in this one instance as inspiration for character, for conflict, or for misunderstandings that could exasperate conflict and fuel multiple paths for a story.

As you can see, this doesn’t give a complete story, and no one source of inspiration really should. Drawing inspiration from multiple sources adds depth, color, flavor, and nuance.

Specific Example

Now, let’s talk about the example I want to give from my current WIP, Crossroad Blues. While brainstorming different folkloric creatures I could have Sam interact with, what types of problems they might have, etc., I happened to stumble across a Creepypasta about a man who had a fist fight with the Devil. The story isn’t long, and it doesn’t have a lot of details; however, one detail stood out: After the man wins the fight, he promises the Devil that if he ever “comes around here again,” either the man or one of his descendants will “beat him back to Hell.” So I thought what would happen if the Devil (or whomever this creature actually was) waited until the man died to make his return? What if the man’s family didn’t believe this story to be anything other than one of “Grandpa’s tall tales”? What if this figure, this “Devil,” returns and demands that promised rematch…and it doesn’t go so well for the person who accepts the challenge?

What did that give me? That single story gave me an inciting incident that will launch Samantha Hain in an adventure that will span two books. And it leaves several questions unanswered. If this person is not the Devil, then who are they? What does the actual Devil think about someone claiming to be him and acting “in his name”? What are the complications that can befall Sam? What about the person who lost the fight and needs her help? Can I tie this into the larger story arc that Liam’s Doom established? If so, how?

If something leads to an idea that raises questions, then you have found something that inspires you. You don’t have to answer them all at once, but in contemplating the answers, the plot of your work begins to take shape.

Inspiration comes from everywhere. It’s a creative’s duty to be open to the world around us in order to see that inspiration.

Promotional Hype!

My debut novel, Liam’s Doom, is on sale at all major and minor retail outlets from Amazon to Barnes & Noble to Bookshop.org. I request that you support Bookshop.org, as their site supports local and independent bookstores. The eBook is available at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and through my webstore.

The paperback version of Carmilla’s Ghost can be pre-ordered at Amazon, Bookshop.org and at Barnes & Noble. Currently, eBook pre-orders are only available at Amazon and through my webstore.

Also, you can find my serialized prequel novel Blood/Lust on my website. New chapters go live at noon each Sunday!

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