Where I Find Inspiration

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I’ve spent a lot of time this year thinking and writing about process, habit, and other parts of my creative life.  Today, I want to take a little time to think and write about inspiration.

First, let’s talk about what I mean by inspiration.  I’m not talking about the motivation to write, or the push to start a project.  I’m talking strictly about the ideas side of things.  Writing, like most art forms, involves a process that gets you to completion, but the creative idea, the inspiration for the story or character, can come from a variety of sources and through a variety of processes.  Said another way, this post is going to be about where my ideas come from, their source if you will, rather than how I get them written down.

There’s a saying that comes up in most writing communities I’ve been in: There are no new stories, just new ways to tell them.  This is to remind you that there are so many stories in the world about so many things, that nothing is truly original anymore, it’s all informed by the stories you’ve been exposed to, but also that this isn’t a bad thing, and it doesn’t make your story any less worthy of being written.  Only you can tell the story you want in the way you want to tell it.

Most of my examples in this post are going to come from the Western Literary Tradition, because that’s the one I was taught in school and while I’ve branched out to try to read works from other cultures, most of my experience is still with Western stories.  Any story about star-crossed lovers is likely to invoke comparison’s to Romeo and Juliet, anything where a character kills their father will bring up references to Oedipus Rex (with or without the accidentally marrying your mother part).  Even major corporations do this as they’re making new stories.  Take the Lion King movies as examples.  The original is a retelling of Hamlet.  1.5 is Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are DeadLion King 2 is Romeo and Juliet.  I’ve definitely done this in the past.  I’ve retold an older story, or at least borrowed heavily from one.  And that’s not a bad thing in and of itself.

The special magic I bring to the equation is how I tell the story differently.  What’s unique about my star-crossed lovers?  How is my retelling of the hero’s journey different from every other hero’s journey before it?  (And let’s be frank, most stories can be boiled down to a hero’s journey.)  That’s where the inspiration comes in.

I draw ideas from all around me.

When I’m creating a character, I may borrow a piece of their description from a favorite character in a book and a piece from someone I know in real life.  I may give them a verbal quirk one of my friends uses, or one of my own.  I may put someone in an outfit I saw while I was out shopping, or one hanging in a store display.

When I’m creating the plot my characters move through, it’s informed by everything I’ve ever watched or read.  I can use the tropes and ideas that are familiar from a star-crossed lovers’ story to set up an expectation that’s how things will end, and then subvert that idea by letting the lovers triumph and find a happy ending together.  When I’m writing an epic fantasy set in a medieval like society, it’s hard not to reference or draw on popular works that have gone before me, like The Lord of the Rings.  Even if I haven’t read the books or watched the movie in years, that series is so foundational to fantasy in the Western Tradition, that I can’t really avoid comparisons or overlap because so many other fantasy stories I’ve read draw on it.  I may not do it intentionally, but there’s going to be something that could be pointed to as similar.

The same is true for how I create my world.  How I decide the magic (or science) of a vampire works in my own fictional world will draw on the original legends, on Dracula, and on a number of different modern vampire novels, stories, and movies I’ve read.  This will extend to role-playing games as well.  I try very hard to mix and match and bring my own original spin to things and make something relatively unique, but there are some things that are going to overlap simply because that’s what is thought of as a vampire.  After all, if they don’t drink blood in some way, are they still a vampire?  How I construct the nature of my world (or my vampires, werecreatures, fae, etc) will have repercussions for the plot as well.  Dracula would have been a very different book if the character hadn’t had some way to mesmerize his victims.

There are a lot of ways that my characters, worlds, and plot lines come together in unconscious ways.  I don’t always realize where the inspiration came from or where I’ve read an idea before.  There are also ways that I do this very consciously.  Many of my stories are a way of sharing something about myself.  A lot of my main characters are women, and a lot of them are white (or would be default read as so in most cases).  This is partially because that’s my identity, and thus the one I feel most comfortable writing about.  I’m not saying that everything my characters go through is based on my own life, but usually at least a few bits and pieces of the problems they encounter, be they external, internal, or interpersonal, are things I’ve experienced or struggled with.

Another way I consciously draw inspiration from the world around me is trying to add diversity to my cast of characters.  In the US at least, most readers will assume a character is white unless there are specific ques in the text telling you they aren’t (like a physical description or a mentioned nationality).  My particular writing style is fairly descriptive.  I know basically every physical characteristic and detail of my characters if they get any substantial amount of page time, and while I don’t tell readers all of it, I do try to give enough to invoke an image that will be at least similar to my own image of the character.  I’m doing to mention hair color and style, eye color, and skin tone.  I’m probably going to tell you about the kind of clothes they wear.  Something I’ve been trying to be much more intentional about since my first book is to make my fictional world better reflect my actual world in the abundance of diversity it contains.  I want there to be a possibility of readers seeing themselves in my books, even if it’s not the main character.

This effort to diversify extends beyond the obvious (in the US) demographic of race (which I need to continue working on).  I want to include diversity of socioeconomic backgrounds, religion, gender identity, sexuality, age, and life experience.  (That isn’t necessarily the full exhaustive list, just the major ones I focus on a lot.)  Sometimes I’m doing this before I even start writing (I tend to have ideas for characters before I have the idea for the plot) and sometimes I look back through a draft and see where I can insert diversity in ways that help give my world more vibrancy.  This can involve quite a bit of subtle tweaking to make the changes fit well into the existing narrative, but that’s work I’m happy to do to improve my story.  And it’s work I know I could get wrong, so it’s something I want to pay a lot of attention to during my editing phase by getting a diverse range of readers to give me feedback on how well I’ve done portraying various characters in ways to look realistic and respectful.

When you boil it all down, I get inspiration from everywhere.  I take inspiration from the world I live in, the stories I’ve read/watched/played, the things I’ve experienced, things others have told me about that they’ve experienced, dreams I’ve had, or artwork I’ve seen.  I have a half-drafted novel that came about entirely due to an image I saw posted online ages and ages ago.  If I ever published that one, I’ll be thanking that artist for the inspiration, even if I can’t find the original image posted anywhere after all these years.

That may have turned into a bit of a ramble, but I hope it at least gives you a sense of where I draw my inspiration from.  Are there specific places you find inspiration or a particularly good story about where you found inspiration for a work?  I’d love to hear about it.

Discipline vs Inspiration: How Habit Keeps Me Going

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Writers, and other creative types, all rely on inspiration for ideas, but over the decades I’ve been writing, I’ve learned that inspiration can only take you so far.  Discipline and habit are needed to get you the rest of the way.

These days, I see writing from two different angles.  There’s the idea creation side of things that encompasses world building, character creation, and plotting (whatever that looks like), and then there’s the physical act of writing, which involves dedicating the time and energy to do the work (be that drafting, revision, copy editing, research, or anything else you need to do to finish the project).  In my early days of writing, I think I bought into the inspiration leads to writing idea a lot more.  I hadn’t learned yet that habit and putting in the time, can get me there even when I’m not feeling inspired.

Take this month as an example.

I started playing with an ide for a new character and world to help meet my April Camp NaNoWriMo goal of writing for at least twenty minutes every day.  I haven’t felt very inspired and some mornings it’s been excruciating trying to make myself write.  But somehow, I’ve done it.  My NaNoWriMo region has been doing early morning sprints together online for a few years now, and it’s become a part of my morning routine.  Even with writing slower and not writing much outside those morning sprints and my one weekly write-in, I have over 25,000 words on this new idea.  It’s a jumbled mess of random scenes, world building notes, and character descriptions, but it’s a lot more than I would have expected given how unmotivated and uninspired I’ve felt all month.

As one of my fellow morning sprinters put it recently “Discipline >> motivation any day.”  The habit I’ve built of writing every day (I’ve only missed two days in April so far) has carried me through when I was struggling to feel creative.

This is part of why I love NaNoWriMo.  While the challenge is ostensibly about writing 50,000 words in a month on a brand-new novel, in spirit, it’s much more about building a daily writing habit.  The ethos of celebrating all new words (or progress of any kind), no matter how few, and every successful effort toward more words, even if the 50k goal is out of reach, is something that I really like.  As a very fast typist who doesn’t usually struggle to get words out, the 50,000 words isn’t the hard part of NaNoWriMo for me personally.  The daily writing habit is my true goal for the challenge these days.  Writing every single day, even over the holidays and busy work times that always come in November, is something I’m really passionate about.

From talking with friends, both local and around the world, I’m not the only one struggling with inspiration these days.  It seemed appropriate to share with the world (or whoever reads this at least) the technique I’ve found to get me through when the inspiration might not be there.  Dedication can get you pretty far all on its own, and it’s more than worth developing good habits of dedication to your writing, or any other creative pursuits.

With that in mind, here’s what’s been working for me:

  1. Dedicate a time every single day to your writing.  This could be as little as five or ten minutes.  Consistency is the key here.  It’s about building up a mental habit which helps with getting into the writing headspace.
  2. If the words aren’t flowing, trying just one sentence.  If that goes well, try for a paragraph.  The physical act of writing (long hand or typing) can help your brain get into the right gear for writing.
  3. If it’s really not working, try changing something.  This could be switching to a different project, moving between drafting, revision, or copyediting, or trying out a different POV.
  4. Don’t berate yourself for working slowly.  Some days it will take 20 minutes to write as little as 200 words.  Some days you might manage two or three times that in 20 minutes.  You should be just as proud of those 200 words as you would be of 600 words.  It’s forward progress.
  5. Remember that revision and copy editing are still writing work.  Just because it might look a little different doesn’t mean you aren’t writing.

Inspiration

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As I gear up for NaNoWriMo (yes it’s only September, see last week’s post for why that’s not early) I’ve begun thinking about ideas I could work on for this year.  I haven’t settled on anything yet, but I’ve been looking back through things that inspire me as I think through ideas, and I just wanted to share a few of them today. Continue reading

How my Reading Gets into My Writing

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I’ve been reading a very interesting book, The State of Affairs: Rethinking Infidelity by Esther Perel, about infidelity, fidelity, relationships, and our constructs of love and monogamy.  I’ve found it incredibly thought provoking.

While I have no experience with affairs, I am married, and we’ve been together for a long time.  This book has given me a new lens to think through my own relationship and be thankful about how atypical we are, especially for a pair of high school sweethearts. Continue reading

Total Solar Eclipse August 2017

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On August 21, 2017, I had the amazing good fortune to be just outside Simpsonville, SC, right in the path of totality for the solar eclipse that crossed the United States.  This was a rare chance to see something truly amazing, and I wasn’t going to miss it.  When my partner realized his parents lived in the path of totality more than a year ago, we made plans to go down.  I’d requested the day off work more than a year in advance.

Leading up to the eclipse there was plenty of news coverage and lots of warnings about not looking directly at the sun without proper eye protection.  Eclipse glasses were available at eye doctors, libraries, planetariums, and schools all over the country.  Our family ordered them online, and they even had the date of the eclipse printed on them. Continue reading

The Hands that Mold: Mathew

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For those new to my blog, the Hands that Mold series of posts is about the people in my life that have helped shape me into the writer I am today.

This post is about Mathew.

If you’ve been reading for a while, you might remember me mentioning Matt before.  He was part of my very first Role Playing Game (RPG) group, which I talked about in a previous The Hand that Mold post.  You might also remember him if you’ve read my book.  This is the Mathew that I mention in the dedications and by the end of this post you’ll have a better idea of why I plan to dedicate each and every book to him. Continue reading

NaNoWriMo: Day 11

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It’s day 11 of National Novel Writing Month.  That means we’re into week two.  Momentum is often lost in week two as the initial enthusiasm wears off.

I’m doing okay.

As of midnight on Day 10:

  • My best words per day was 6,178.
  • My overall word count is 36,531.
  • I’ve hosted 3 write-ins.
  • My best sprint time so far was 908 words in 20 minutes.

Not too shabby if I do say so myself.

And there’s so much left of the month.  I have another 20 days of creative literary abandon to enjoy, and plenty more words to write.

*Image courtesy of National Novel Writing Month

Blasting Off for a Writing Adventure

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It’s the end of October already.  Soon Halloween will have come and gone and November will be upon us.  And for me, November means National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo).

This year’s NaNoWriMo theme is “Your Novel, Your Universe,” and I love all the artwork associated with it so far.  It’s all about clean lines, sleek old-school rockets, and astronovelists.  But NaNoWriMo also about so much more than just the art.  It’s about writing the novel you always wanted to, or maybe the novel you didn’t realize you had in you. Continue reading

Q is for Quotes

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If you stumbled upon me through the A to Z Blog Challenge, welcome. If not, check out the challenge and all those participating at their site.

 

I find quotes can be very inspiring, so I’ve collected a few of my favorites to share with you today. Here are a few quotes that I think have a bit of spark to them, along with a few images I use to help share them.

 

“It’s like your batteries get low, and you need to charge them on someone else’s story.”

Margaret Cho

 

“Don’t let anyone tell you what you can’t write. But don’t let them tell you what you must write either. It’s art, not a grant application.”

Patrick Ness

 

“The harder the conflict, the more glorious the triumph.”

Thomas Paine

 

“Look at people for an example, but then make sure to do things your way.”

Queen Latifah

 

“Be who you are and say what you feel because those who mind don’t matter and those who matter don’t mind.”

Bernard M. Baruch

Be who you are and say what you feel

“Ideas are like rabbits. You get a couple and learn how to handle them, and pretty soon you have a dozen.”

John Steinbeck

Ideas are like rabbits

“Being deeply loved by someone gives you strength, while loving someone deeply gives you courage.”

Lao Tzu

Being deeply loved

“Nothing livens up a den of iniquity like a potted plant.”

Flora, in Professor Layton and the Unwound Future

Nothing livens up a den of iniquity

“If you’re not making mistakes, then you’re not doing anything.”

John Wooden

If you're not making mistakes

“To invent your own life’s meaning is not easy, but it’s still allowed, and I think you’ll be happier for the trouble.”

Bill Watterson

To invent your own life's meaning

“So much universe and so little time.”

Terry Pratchett

So much universe  TPratchett

 

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Personal Muses

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With NaNoWriMo behind me and another novel’s worth of words to edit and revise, I thought it was time to talk a little more about the other side of the equation.

Everyone has things that inspire them. Whether it’s to write, paint, draw, or simply to be a better person. I think of the things that inspire me, especially when they are people, as my personal muses.

My muses can take many forms. Sometimes it’s another writer who is succeeding and selling and sharing their story with the world. Sometimes it’s the friend who pushed so hard to earn the degree they wanted and finally landed that job that was actually in their field. And sometimes it’s my cat, who is far eviler than I and thus makes a great inspiration for villains. Continue reading