Inspiration for Writing a Novel
We all know that writing is not just about assembling words, but also about assembling ideas. When we actually sit down to write, we may have our ideas all worked out in advance or we may have no idea what we want to say – just a desire to say something. But either way, the one thing we could always use more of is inspiration.
Inspiration can come from many sources: a conversation overheard at a coffee shop, a newspaper article, or a personal experience, to name a few. And inspiration can also take many forms: a snippet of dialog, a bit of action, a clever concept, and so on.
One thing most inspirations have in common is that they are not stories, just the beginnings of stories. But what if you don’t have any story ideas at all? How can you get some?
You might begin by writing about yourself. Even though you want to create fiction, writing a short autobiographical piece is like a warm-up exercise. This works because you don’t have to invent anything, just choose the words. Think of it as priming the pump. Often I have written material as a means of getting something off my chest, out of my thoughts, or perhaps just to get a grip on nebulous feelings or issues by forcing myself to put them into concrete terms.
You can do this exercise on social media and share with friends, or if it is too close to home, you can just keep it to yourself. But in either case, you’ve greased the wheels and the is absolutely the first prerequisite to finding inspiration.
Some of what I write this way has actually turned out to be usable as anecdotes related by my characters, essays on personal growth that help develop a character’s arc, or insights into meaningful emotional experiences that make my characters more real. And similarly, these personal tomes might suggest plot points, sub plots, or twists.
Still, most of what I have written for my audience of one remains with me. Perhaps it is too personal to share, or just too personal to have meaning to anyone else. No matter, though. It has done its job and now I am ready to think about the story I really want to write.
If autobiographical material isn’t your cup of tea, try this to get your Muse in gear: Pick three random words out of thin air. I’ll pick Red, Ground, and Rover as an example. Next I’ll ask myself what those words might mean, if they were all taken together… Red, Ground, Rover. Rover could be a dog. Ground Rover could be hamburger… No, that’s not right… Moving on… Maybe these three words could be about someone roving over red ground – perhaps a Johnny Appleseed kind of guy on Mars. Now we’re cooking Okay, let’s run with that idea.
You see, your Muse can’t help coming up with off the wall ideas. She just doesn’t like being told what to work on.
Blurting out something that has no conscious intent behind it can be a useful trick in overcoming writer’s block. It seems that writer’s block most often occurs when we are intentionally trying to determine what we want to talk about. But, when we just put something forth and then try to figure out what it might mean, a myriad of possibilities suggest themselves.
If you like, take a moment and try it. Just jot down a few nonsense words to create a phrase. Then, consider what they might mean. Rather than attempting to create, you are now in analysis mode, the inverse emotional state of trying to produce something out of nothing. You’ll probably be surprised at how many interpretations of your phrase readily come to mind.
Now if you still aren’t ready to write, you can carry this a little further. Going back to my example, I’m thinking, Mars is red, and the Martian Rover explored the planet. Looks like I’m starting a science fiction story.
But what to do next? How about another nonsense phrase: “minion onion manner house.” What in the world does that mean? Let’s tie it in to the first phrase. Suppose there is some underling (minion) who is hunting for wild onions on Mars (onions being so suited to the nutrients in the soil that they grow wild in isolated patches). The underling works at the Manner House of a wealthy Martian frontier settler, but is known as Red Ground Rover because of his free-time onion prospecting activities.
Now, these phrases weren’t planned as examples for this book. To create an actual example, I just blurted them out as I suggest you do. And once they are out there, just as we see pictures in ink blots, animals in the clouds, and mythic figures in the constellations, we impose our desire for patterns even on the meaningless. And in so doing, we often find unexpected inspiration.
More than likely, none of our ideas are suited to what we are attempting to write, yet we have successfully dislodged our minds from the vicious cycle of trying to figure out what to say. And, returning to the specific task of our story, we are will just as likely be surprised to find that writer’s block has vanished while we were distracted.
Now that you have a few techniques for finding inspiration, what if they don’t work? What if you are still stuck for ideas?
In the next installment we’ll look at a method for breaking that log jam and making it not only productive but fun to start lining out your story, but you can keep going right now with the interactive online StoryWeaver App. Check out the 14 day free trial at Storymind.com/free-trial.htm
Melanie Anne Phillips