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 Woods – Sometimes 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.