6 | finding inspiration
Updated: Mar 1, 2020
I think I've been writing all my life. I mean, before I was writing, I was telling stories. Entire worlds were formed using my barbies and stuffed animals. I had imaginary friends (still do, just now I call them "characters"). In grade school, I would write entirely fictional stories, even when my teacher wanted me to write true events.
The prompt would be: "What did you do yesterday?" Simple enough, right? Nope. Not for me. I would write about going to the store with my mother and our car turning into a rocket ship. The grocery store would be filled with snakes and bumblebees. I literally have notebooks in my attic full of my second-grade handwritten papers--all of them filled with equally ridiculous events that I swore were true.
As I grew older, the storytelling didn't stop. I would create games for my cousins and me to play. These games would have heroes and villains, with in-depth backstories and unseen adventures. I was a writer even before I knew what a writer was. Telling stories was as natural to me as breathing.
I learned early on to look for the magical in everyday life.
Through reading, I learned what I enjoy in a book. I study the things I like and try to find ways of looking at the same subject matter. For instance, I really liked Dracula by Bram Stoker. So I chose the things I liked--the tone, the writing style, the dark mystery, the surprise--and incorporated those things in my own story. Those things became Senseless. In that book, I mixed my love for the Victorian period and my interest in dark mysteries. I wrote a story I'd have liked to read.
I've slowly trained myself to look for book worthy things in my life. I had a friend tell me about a first date she went on. I thought the concept was so lovely, I wrote it into The Culled Crown novella, Eyes Like The Ocean. My college friends often worm their way into characters even when I don't mean for that to happen. I can see my friends in the character of Uriel Warwick. I can see their kindness and unending compassion in Nadia Reese. I am inspired by the things people say or how they react to situations. I search for inspiration and actively work to thread the things I see into creative ideas.
I want to keep myself writing.
Sometimes that means looking at something very normal and turning it on its head. Like attending a beauty pageant and wondering what it would be like if the contestants all had to fight to the death for the crown. Would they want to? Would be people be willing--eager--to see them do it? Usually that first "what if" leads to a lot of questions and it's those questions that eventually build a story.
Learning to ask the world questions has taken time and practice. I keep a running bullet point list on my phone of ideas. Sometimes I will just write a word I really like or I'll make a note for myself to research "Egyptian mythology." I find that the more I look for inspiration, the more I find it.
I also make mental notes when I dealing with something stressful, something sad, something hurtful. It's strange to say, but I will turn into a written even in stressful situations. I am always thinking to myself, "remember this, remember how x feels." What am I experiencing physically, what can I smell, what do I see, how am I thinking? How would I describe this feeling in a book? This not only proves to be a very effective way to compartmentalize things, but it also helps me to think of realistic descriptions. It can also help spur a story idea into life or push me to think outside the box.
I don't wait for inspiration. Writers write, even when they are uninspired or they don't know what to say. They still put words on paper. If you wait for inspiration, you are a waiter, not a writer. So I don't wait. Write.
I know, easier said than done.
Still, I think it's true.
Don't worry, I'm going to give you a tip on how to do this all the time--even when you really don't want to.
Many times, if I'm bored with what I'm writing or if I want to start a new project but feel unprepared to do so, I will start writing what I call shorts.
Shorts are scenes that have no context and no place in a current story. A short might just be a conversation between a boy and a girl. It doesn't have to have clear direction at this point, it just has to exist. You can do something with words on a page, write the words. Ask yourself questions about the random characters you've just created.
Are they lovers? Are they siblings? What are they talking about? Is there tension? What do they see, hear, feel, smell, touch? When writing a short, I will write until a story emerges--or at least until I have a scene.
Again, that first spark of an idea can cause an avalanche of questions that can build a story. If the boy and girl are fighting, what are they fighting about? Is he angry? Is she at fault? Did he break her heart? Does she want to kiss him, hit him, yell at him? What are they thinking? What are their motivations? What do they want?
Because EVERYONE in a scene wants something.
Sometimes a short is only one page, sometimes it's twenty pages. Through writing shorts, I not only keep my mind moving and thinking, but I also create an arsenal of unused scenes that I can use in a current story or that I can come back to later.
The first chapter of The Culled Crown started out as a short. I wrote the scene between Monroe and her brothers weeks before I ever sat down to start writing the book. Initially, it was a scene between a girl and her brothers. I had them arguing over something. The older brother was stressed. The mother did not know a secret.
As I was writing the short, I didn't know what the secret was or why there was tension in the scene. I just knew that the girl had a secret, one that put her in danger. That eventually grew into a full story.
Don't be afraid to not know the answers right away. Write until you find them.
When it came time to start writing Monroe's story, I went to my shorts and tried to see if any of the scenes I'd written were interesting or inspiring. I found that old short and decided to adapt it to fit the beauty pageant project----a project that would later become The Culled Crown.
My biggest advice to writers struggling with inspiration would be to start working on shorts. Create a folder on your computer and fill it with random scenes. Don't stress yourself out over a full story or a plot. Just write something. Write a short scene every day or every other day. Put your current WIP (Work In Progress) into a new setting, a new time period. Write a scene where your main character is dying. Change things up.
Put these documents in that folder and forget about them. Then return to them later and surprise yourself with what inspiration you find.
I was recently asked to speak to some of the creative writing majors at my alma mater. During that presentation, I was asked how I stayed focused on one story. The person asking it said that they couldn't remain focused on one project or decided what to write. I had to think about that for a moment and I realized, during that conversation, that shorts are keeps on track. I allow my mind to deviate from the charted path of my book--I just don't let them be anything more than shorts.
I am a one-track writer. I write one book at a time, I always have. I get so immersed in my characters and their lives that it's hard to resurface long enough to dive into anything else. When I'm writing Monroe, she occupies all the space in my mind. This can be draining, especially when you spend months working on the same series. I keep myself passionate and "inspired" by letting myself take breaks to play with other ideas. I write a short, get the idea out of my mind and on the page, and then I take a step back from it and return to the project at hand.
Create a routine and train yourself to do the same. Look for the magical in the mundane. Inspiration is everywhere. Teach yourself to find the beauty and unexpected inspiration in the things around you. Look at normal everyday things and try to find ways to make them weird or strange. There are stories all around you, you just have to learn to see them.
How do you stay inspired? Do you keep a list of story ideas and character names in a notebook or on your phone? How do you start a story? Let me know in the comment.
As always, feel free ask questions and suggest topics. I love to talk to you guys and hear your thoughts. Let's learn from each other.