One of the most asked questions I get when speaking to schools about my writing is “Where do you get your ideas?” and similarly, “How do you find inspiration to write?”. It’s a fun question to answer because my answer is almost always different every time. Why? Because ideas don’t come from any one place. Inspiration is life. It comes from our experiences, our daily grind. It’s seldom found in the same place twice. As a writer, I wouldn’t have it any other way. It’s what keeps me on my toes, living life and observing my world.
For me, finding inspiration is “the thrill of the hunt”, so to speak. As writers, it’s our job to track down the fickle muse of inspiration with all the stealth of a lioness in the tall grass. We wander the watering holes, and shady places in search of our prey. These are the places frequently visited by inspiration, but it never guarantees we will find anything there.
What I thought I’d do today is share a list of frequent places I go to find inspiration. Perhaps you’ve tried a few of them yourself. If not, I encourage you to add one or two in your quest for ideas next time.
1. Current Events: North Korea has made the news a bunch lately, pompously parading its nuclear missiles around like a seventh grade boy who just got his first chest hair…only a mentally unstable teen, and the chest hair is explosive. A meteorite explodes in the sky over Russia and sends shock waves that blow the glass out of everything for several miles in all directions. We can take things like this and use them in our own stories, twisting and turning them to meet our own story needs. What if the meteor was bigger? What if it happend over New York city? What if the North Koreans blew themselves up by accident during their training missions? What if our hero needed to stop a mentally unstable antagonist who has the keys to a weapon more powerful than the death star? All of this is story gold…ripped right from the headlines.
2. Biblical and Historical Events: Our first book, The Legend of Gid the Kid and the Black Bean Bandits, was a retelling of the Gideon story from the Bible. It began with a simple verse in Judges “In those days, Israel had no king and everyone did what was right in their own eyes.” I pondered this verse and wondered what it would really be like to live in a world without authority – where might was right, and the only law was what I believed to be right for me. That thought led me to the legends of the Wild West. Untamed country, where men did as they pleased. It was a wild and dangerous place to live. History is full of stories of courage, redemption, sacrifice, scandals and good old-fashioned conflict – the heartbeat of a story. Use it to your advantage.
3. Reading Books: I can’t tell you how many books I’ve started and never finished. It’s not because the books weren’t good, but because the books made me hunger to write again. The more I read, no matter what the genre, the more the voice of the written word is awakened inside. Feed your mind with the written word, and you may find the words you seek.
4. Blogs: Blogs are ideas. Reading blogs by other writers is a great source of inspiration. Just hearing the passion other writers have for their work can get you “in the groove” of your own project. Some of my favorite places to go are: SpeculativeFaith.com (of course), SaveTheCat.com, MichaelHyatt.com, CrapHound.com, DesiringGod.org and a bunch more…
5. Art: It’s true that a picture is worth a thousand words. Check out this piece by my friend Jared Shear. Need I say more?
6. Nature: I was staring at my un-mowed lawn yesterday (I told you inspiration hides in unlikely places sometimes) and wondered what my lawn would look like after North Korea nukes Seattle. How deep could it possibly get when fueled by the radioactive pollens of the apocalypse. One thing let to another and soon I had imagined an entire story world wherein plants, insects, mushrooms and the like fought with each other for domination of a world without humans – World War III…with weeds! Our hero, a pansy carrying a machete, must hack his way through countless villains in his quest for the promised land. Oh what a story it will be. So, go for a hike. Wake up a bit earlier tomorrow to watch the sunrise. You never know what God might reveal to you in his wonderful world.
7. Eavesdropping On Dialogue: I’ll admit…I’m a snoop. But not in a creepy way, I swear. I just love dialogue. I love the unexpected drama of life. Most dialogue is boring, but every once in awhile I’ll overhear a conversation in the mall (or coffee shop) that is really intriguing. I pretend to do something else and just listen for awhile. I soak it up, taking in the nuances of the engaged individuals. How they handle the conflict, how they deal with each other’s words.
8. Movies: I love movies. I’ve been blessed with a mother in law who gives FREE movie ticket vouchers to us for Christmas every year (like 20 movie tickets per person in my family – including my 18 month old). It’s awesome to be able to catch a flick that’s in the vein of what I’m writing about and see other artist’s imaginations at work. Even lame films often have inspirational moments in them. Often I’ll find myself thinking, “Oh, that idea could totally be better if it were like this…” and my mind is off to the races.
9. Music: I’m a big fan of soundtracks. Music without words is a must for me to be inspired when writing. Writing to soundtracks puts me in the mood for epic stories. My playlist includes Inception, Tron: Legacy, Dark Knight, Harry Potter, John Carter, etc. You’ll find your own favorites, but for me…it’s gotta be a musical adventure.
10. Coffee House: I’ve mentioned this before, but I’ve found that hanging out in a local coffee shop is one of the best ways to focus on my creative writing. I’m strangely unbothered by the hard chairs, the buzz of people, and the occasional interruption from somebody I know. I’m not sure why it works exactly, but some of my best writing comes from hanging out in places like this. But not all coffee shops are created equal. There are a few rules I’ve made for myself when scoping new coffee shops out. Rule 1: It must have a south facing window (I need my sunlight). Rule 2: It can’t be overly air conditioned (shivering all day does not help me focus). Rule 3: It can’t be in a place where too many of my friends drop in. Rule 4: It’s got to smell good.
11. Write or Die: Sometimes the best way to get the writing juices flowing is to JUST WRITE!!!! Stop trying to find the magical mood, and just dive in. Sure it will probably suck, but there is nothing quite as inspiring as seeing your own words on the page. Bad writing can be fixed. Not writing anything can’t be fixed. One of the best tools to help nudge me along in my writing lately has been WriteOrDie.com. You plug in a word count goal, and set a time limit and the tool does the rest. The screen turns red when you stop writing, there’s an “evil” mode that starts to delete your words if you stop typing, and another mode that plays annoying sounds at you if you stop typing. It’s great to watch your word count soar as time flies by. Oh, and did I mention it’s FREE? For $10 you can even buy a downloadable version to engage in “word wars” with friends. Compete head to head in writing challenges. It’s a way to make writing…a game. How fun is that?!?! (BTW: I’m millerbrother1 if anyone wants to challenge me sometime)
So there you have it. Eleven ways I stalk inspiration in my writing. But I want to hear from you. What ways do you find inspiration? Post a comment below and share your ideas with us too. Who knows, your idea might help another author spawn a great idea.