So far all of the different sources of inspiration I’ve talked about have been media related, (music, images, and media) but today I want to talk about how you can get inspired simply by living.
Writers tend to be pretty quiet people, and we’re often mistaken for being shy. But that assumed shyness is really just perception. We are watching, ever observant and our brains are processing every bit of information our senses feed them. It’s one of the reason we live up to the “writers in coffee shops” cliché so well, the environment stimulates our senses and it’s a great place for inconspicuous people watching.
I study people I meet, their behaviors and personality quirks, the way they move their hands when they talk, the words they choose; these are all important elements that make this person unique and real. I study these traits and interject my characters with the traits that make sense for them based on people I’ve observed in real life. Sometimes even I’ll base entire characters on people I know and I’m sure lots of writers do this, that’s why we put that disclaimer on the legal page.
But sometimes studying people isn’t enough. A lot of what you deduce about them is based on assumption – which is fine, it’s great to flex your imagination while people watching – but if you want to really know somebody you have to talk to them. The conventional wisdom says “write what you know,” but what if you want to write a war story but you’ve never stepped foot on a battlefield? Do the next best thing, talk to someone who has.
When I was younger my grandfather would always offer – unsolicited - a recounting of his exploits in World War II. At the time I didn’t pay much attention to them, but now that he’s no longer with us I badly wish I had listened. Everybody on this planet has, in essence, seen some shit. Everyone has an experience, everyone has a story, if you take the time to listen you might find inspiration for your next book and it just might change your life.
|My grandpa, proud buffalo soldier.|
In the last post I talked about how watching documentaries can take you to faraway places and can help inspire you but nothing can replace the physical act of exploration. Half of the fun is the journey itself! I haven’t set foot atop beautiful vistas or sailed roaring rapids (yet!), but even living in the city you can find things you never knew existed. Get out and go biking in a part of town you’ve never been, take the bus one stop further than usual and explore the area on foot, the whole time your brain will be receptive to new sights and feelings and new, exciting, thoughts will pop into your head. You get the best of both worlds, a mini-getaway and your write brain gets fed, it’s a win-win.
In this video I talk about how I got the inspiration for my latest short story by taking a ride around my neighborhood.
Inspiration doesn’t always just happen, sometimes you have to actively seek it out, but it really is nice when it just comes to you. For some reason a lot of creative minded are prone to epiphanies in the bathroom. I’m always in the middle of a shower when a good idea strikes me, and usually I try to be ready to jot down interesting thoughts but in the bathroom I’m unarmed and forget it the second I step out.
There’s something about being on autopilot mode that lets our imagination run wild while our bodies are preforming tasks which is why a lot of people will say “go for a jog,” or “ take a walk around the block,” if you’re feeling like the muses have turned away from you. I’d like to add one more piece of advice, and that is to work on your writing at your day job. If like me you have a job you can easily space out at while suffering no loss in performance then I say do it. Take the time to think about your story structure, what your protagonists are going to face in your next writing session, what the antagonists are doing during your heroine's downtime, think about the characters themselves and their relationships to one another. I get a lot of planning done at my day job while still getting paid, another win-win, and it’s especially easy if you have a menial job like washing dishes or stocking shelves. Work while you’re at work, get inspired by life!
See you tomorrow as the Get Writing Challenge continues with Get Inspired - Negativity!
Links to all entries in the Get Writing Challenge: