Image: Matthew Loffhagen
Writers run on hard work and inspiration. While the former has to come from within, there are a lot of places you can look for the latter.
Like any resource worth having, the inspiration you need won’t arrive on its own. In this article, I’ll list eleven places authors can find inspiration, and hopefully inspire you to think of a few of your own.
Inspiration is a subconscious process, but that process is the result of conscious stimulation. Going for a walk and taking in the world around you will prepare your mind to accept inspiration as it arrives. In the same way that you need to exercise a muscle to strengthen it, you have to exercise your brain to become more receptive to outside stimuli.
But nature isn’t your only inspirational resource outside. A writer consciously studying their environment will find a hundred pieces of overheard dialogue, a hundred humanizing moments, every time they step out of the house. If you are actively searching the world around you for true moments – the kind of moments that inspire and justify stories – then you’ll find them.
2. Other books
There’s nothing wrong with finding inspiration in the work of others. If there’s a genre or subject you’d like to address then research how other writers have dealt with it, and think about what parts of their craft could work for you. Remember you can learn as much from bad writing as you can from good; exploring how another author went wrong can give you ideas that will shape your own writing.
If you don’t have time to read, you don’t have the time (or the tools) to write. Simple as that.
– Stephen King
There’s also literature specifically designed to help you in your own writing. You can click here for our top ten books on writing that will make you a better writer.
I’ve talked before about how music can inform your sense of pace and mood, but it’s also a great source of inspiration. As with outdoor inspiration, the more actively engaged you are with music the better. Think about, and ideally write down, what a piece of music has made you feel and most importantly how it made you feel that way.
Try writing something to accompany the music, a story that evokes the same feelings. In fact, try writing a few. Don’t expect inspiration to strike immediately. Instead, coax it out by creating an environment that’s open to its presence.
Many people see television as an anathema to good writing, as if every hour spent watching diminishes your abilities. While some consider any time spent watching television as time which could be better spent reading, the glowing box is a constant supply of storytelling. Everything from the best program to the worst advert is an attempt at narrative, so actively identify what works, what doesn’t, and why.
One particularly helpful writing exercise is to try and write a compelling piece based on something you’ve just watched. Often the worse the inspiration, the more you’ll learn from your own work (as you’ll explore both what’s missing and how you can provide it). This also conditions you to look for inspiration in seemingly mundane places.
This is another useful tool for conditioning your authorial mind-set. Take a piece of fiction and re-envision it with a key facet changed; the setting, the viewpoint, or a major plot event. Use this one small change to get new ideas from an established work
Few may rate the writing skills on show in E.L. James’ Fifty Shades of Grey, but there’s no denying the popularity of this slightly adjusted take on the Twilight franchise. Likewise Seth Grahame-Smith’s Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, where a major change early in the classic novel’s plot leads to an entirely different take on the story.
Working with an established narrative means there are existing details to fall back on for every aspect of the story that doesn’t inspire you. This allows you to focus on thinking up and testing new ideas; fairy tales are especially good for this.
6. A community
Engaging with a community online can be fantastic for inspiration.
Often the most inspiring thing to a storyteller is simply the presence of an audience, and joining a site like Wattpad gives you access to a readymade audience of artistic people to write for. Once you’ve got an audience, writing becomes more about tailoring your work to the readers that enjoy it than blindly wondering what to write.
Being part of a community also means being exposed to concepts and ideas you wouldn’t have otherwise discovered, and being able to engage other creative people in discussions that will stoke your inspiration.
7. A writers’ circle
I’ve written about writers’ circles elsewhere. As with a community such as Wattpad, writers’ circles give you an audience, but where they differ is in the critical approach. A community readership may simply enjoy your work, but it’s a writers’ circle’s purpose to examine it and suggest how it could be improved.
It’s through this process that you really examine your own work, your own style, and can begin to think about what subjects suit you best. This new viewpoint encourages you to engage with the ideas and emotions that provoke inspiration in an entirely new way.
8. The internet
There are thousands upon thousands of resources for authors online, from blogs on writing to sites that will automatically generate plot twists for your story.
By its nature online content is transitory, always one click away from disappearing, but an author intent on finding inspiration needs to keep track of what works for them. A digital, or real, scrap-book of interesting and inspiring content will be valuable in the future. This may seem like a pain but taking ten seconds to squirrel away content as you find it will pay off down the line.
Dreams are a fantastic and frequently untapped resource for writers. Dreams are your rational mind weaving a story out of unconnected thoughts, themes and impulses; some would describe them as narrative at its purest. They also have the potential to be incredibly inspirational, as they’re stories structured around the things that most concern and preoccupy you.
As with the great outdoors, to get inspiration out of your dreams you need to engage with them. It’s not enough to just sleep, experience and forget. Keep a dream journal next to your bed and, as soon as you wake up, write down all the details you can remember. Dreams can vanish in the time it takes you to go get a drink, so if you’re going to keep a journal it needs to be a priority.
10. Free writing
Free writing (sitting and writing for a set amount of time with no pre-arranged story) is a strange device in that most writers will admit it’s useful, but few ever really do it. The unpopularity seems to stem from the first ten to fifteen minutes, where your creativity is still warming up and all you’re writing is ‘I am free writing’.
Persevere past this point, however, and you’ll find that free writing can drag great ideas out of even the most uninspired author. For most the key is to be strict. Decree an hour of uninterrupted writing and stick to it and your brain will start throwing out decent ideas rather than suffer through the boredom.
11. Brain free time
Inspiration is difficult because it’s unwieldy. It needs to be harnessed when it appears, but also given time to grow. As unproductive as it may seem when you’re desperate for new ideas, some time spent with a clear mind is often essential to finding inspiration.
This can take the form of exercise, showering, or just setting some time aside to relax. Our brains are complex, and creativity sometimes needs to flourish away from the conscious mind – this is why great ideas often strike just as we’re drifting off. So, writers who value inspiration need to give their brains this free time and, most importantly, have a pen and paper on hand for when the ideas arrive.
Engaging with inspiration
You may have noticed a pattern to the above suggestions, and that’s active engagement. Sitting around and complaining about a lack of inspiration won’t make it arrive, but putting genuine effort into being inspired can reveal ideas in almost any environment. State of mind is 90% of the journey; there are no objectively inspirational occurrences, just things that make you think.
If all else fails the best advice is to write. Write rubbish, write nonsense, but write one word after the other. Inspiration will come, and once it has you’ll be in a position to do something with it.
Do you have a favorite place to find inspiration, or are you sorely in need of it? Please share below in the comments.
For more on helpful communities try Why Joining A Writing Group May Be The Best Thing You Do All Year. Or if you keep putting off your novel because you’re not feeling inspired today, Writing Avoidance Behavior: Here’s How To Overcome It might just have the tips you need.