Sunday, March 4, 2018

Where I Find #Inspiration by Christine DePetrillo

As an author, I’m constantly searching the world around me for ideas. When my students grumble that they have “nothing to write about,” I quickly arc my arms out and say, “Study your surroundings. Ideas are everywhere.” I then usually pick up random things around the classroom and generally act like a semi-crazy person.

“See this pencil?” I’ll ask as I brandish a very ordinary school supply. “What if it remembers everything about being the tree it once was?”

“See this box of crayons here?” I’ll ask as I wiggle the brand new box of twenty-four bold colors. “What if everything you draw with them comes to life?”

“See your best friend sitting at his desk across the room?” I’ll ask as I point to another student. “What if he’s keeping a really BIG secret from you right now?”

Inspiration. It’s everywhere if we ask those what if questions. True writers make a sport out of wondering about the people, places, and objects we come into contact with everyday. We also wonder about those people, places, and objects we’ve never seen in person.

I have a few tricks I use when I need a little help in the inspiration department. Here they are in no particular order.

1    1. Surfing the Web – The internet literally puts the world at our fingertips. I often spend some time (not too much) just hopping around online to see where I end up. A news article on the ancient Aztecs could result in a historical fiction story idea. A classified ad could give a character an interesting job. A review about a new car model could lead to a high speed chase in a book. The internet is ripe with inspiration… if you don’t spend too much time stuck on Pinterest browsing recipes, that is. Actually, even that could lead to story ideas if you remember you were looking for story ideas.
2    2. Eavesdropping – This sounds like an invasion of privacy—and maybe it is—but I listen to people in line at the grocery store, while waiting for food at a restaurant, as I sit in my backyard while the neighbors are outside fighting with each other. I study the way people say things, what they talk about, how they address one another. Bits of conversation give you a window into different personalities, all of which could help develop more realistic characters. Don’t be afraid to eavesdrop. Just don’t get caught because that gets awkward.
3    3. Walking in the WoodsSometimes I just need to be away from everyone. I need to power down completely and push aside all the stimulation living in the modern world throws at us 24/7. Walking in the woods centers me. It allows me to empty the clutter that builds up in my mind and be more receptive to inspiration. I find that sitting on the leaf-covered ground, sunlight warming me, reboots my system. It’s important to take time to reopen your creative channels however works best for you. When I try to go, go, go, I often don’t go anywhere. Retreating to the woods gets the creative juices flowing again.
4    4. Listening to Music – Songs stimulate visual imagery for me. I listen to a song and imagine the video I’d put with it. Music works best for me when I’m actually already writing a story. I’ve found that the right music makes all the difference in the word flow. Sometimes a simple station change from one genre of music to another opens the flood gates protecting the words. Music also helps me block out any noise happening around me while I’m trying to write.
5    5. Advertisements – You know, the ones that come in the Sunday paper? I sometimes page through those to find outfits for my characters. As a victim of twelve years of Catholic school uniforms, I have absolutely no fashion sense. Dressing myself is a challenge, never mind clothing my characters. When I read, I like to know what people are wearing so I try to incorporate that into my own books, but it isn’t easy for me. I don’t know what is currently in fashion. I pretty much like men in flannel shirts, jeans, and work boots, but I realize men do wear other things. I just have no idea what. The advertisements help me get inspiration so my characters don’t make the same fashion mistakes I do.

These are just some ways I find inspiration when I’m writing. They don’t always work all of the time, but they are in my writer’s toolkit for those emergency situations when the words get stuck.

Do you have any suggestions for me in terms of where to go or what to do when seeking inspiration? I’d love to hear them.



Jannine Gallant said...

I, too, find inspiration walking in the woods. Something about it clears my head and helps me find solutions to plot problems. When I'm stuck, I take my dog for a walk!

Leah St. James said...

I confess, I'm an eavesdropper, to a point. Actually, I'm more of a people watcher. I look at body language and expressions and make up stories about what might be going on. Great ideas, Chris.

Alison Henderson said...

You're so right, Chris. Once you open your eyes and ears, inspiration is all around you. If I get stuck, a day or two away from my writing usually clears my head. For some reason, the solution usually comes to me in the shower. As far as ideas, I'm looking forward to using my folder of clippings from our local newspaper police log in my next series. LOL

Christine DePetrillo said...

Alison, I get inspiration in the shower too. I have a waterproof pencil/notepad in there because of that.

Alicia Dean said...

I love what you tell your students. Sounds like a woderful way to inspire their imagination. Yes, inspiration is everywhere. I have more ideas than I'll ever have time to write. :) Thanks for the great post!

Rolynn Anderson said...

Yes! The shower. And drying my hair. But I'd say the best stuff I get is out of the New York Times...makes me read widely, beyond my culture or life position. Also up there is travel...out of my comfortable home/city...I HAVE to notice what's different in order to get around foreign towns, etc. But then, I'm not the one who has shapeshifter bears crawling into bed with her. Now, that's the best way to grab an idea!

Andrea Downing said...

Christine, you've already mentioned two of my main sources for inspiration. Eavesdropping: dinner out is an excellent source for me because you can usually hear the conversation at the next table; in NYC we call it 'dinner and a show.' And music: I'm a country/western fan as I write western romance and all those songs have little stories that can serve as take-off points.

Diane Burton said...

As you say, inspiration is everywhere. Love the examples you gave your students. Pinterest is a great inspiration for me. That's where I've found fashions for men and women. As I find pictures, I add them to the boards with my books. "Inspiration for The Pilot", etc.

Brenda Whiteside said...

Oh yes, so very true. Inspiration is everywhere. I'm so glad you're teaching that to the young.