Inspiration: Mining the World for Ideas

There are times in most writers’ lives where their muse takes an unannounced vacation. Sometimes, there’s no real reason for this desertion, and sometimes she doesn’t even leave a note to tell us when she’ll be back. It is possible that she will return as soon as something in your life simplifies or clears up, but, sometimes, you have to do your own work for a while. Don’t worry, though. There’s a whole world at your disposal.

First, I suggest owning several notebooks, at least one of which is palm, pocket, or purse size, and a lot of pens and/or pencils. Keep them in strategic locations, places where you spend a lot of time (don’t forget your nightstand) and be prepared to use them.

No one has experienced everything; it is impossible. Some forms of being preclude others (being a twin, being born without an arm, and, excepting surgical alterations, boys don’t experience the same things girls do in life) while others are simply uncommon (being a child prodigy, being born gender neutral, being adopted); but, either way it is impossible to experience everything life has to offer. This is where spaying, eavesdropping, researching, and living vicariously through others come in handy for authors.

Take a notebook with you when you go to the mall, or grocery store, or to school. Listen to the conversations around you and take note of anything that strikes your interest. Don’t take entire conversations or descriptions of events (you never know when something like that could come back to bite you), just write down the juiciest tidbits, the most thought provoking dialogue, the most inspirational details. But, just to clarify, this doesn’t mean that you should sit around waiting for someone to start sprouting philosophical theories. I’m not talking about that kind of inspiration. It means taking note of things you want to know more about, the questions you want answered, the piece of information that starts your wheels turning. I’ll give you a for instance.

For instance, perhaps you overhear someone say, “But, by then, it didn’t matter what she had or hadn’t said. He’d already lost the leg.” This is the kind of thing that makes you want to interrupt their conversation and ask a million different questions, probably starting with, “What could she have possibly said caused someone to lose a leg?” Actually doing this, however, would be weird rude, and a little creepy, especially if they’d noticed you taking notes. And, honestly, you’d probably be able to create a more interesting story in your head anyway. Who are the people involved? Who are the people talking about it now? Maybe a girl broke up with her long time boyfriend and the boyfriend stormed off on his motorcycle and crashed so bad that the doctors couldn’t save his leg. Or, maybe the girl saw that the guy had all the warning signs of diabetes, but never told him and he didn’t find out until it was too late and the doctors had to amputate his leg. Maybe she set him up on a blind date with a psycho girl who broke his leg with a sledgehammer because she thought he called her fat. Possibilities abound.

Of course, not everything worth writing down is going to be that obvious or dramatic, but that doesn’t mean it’s any less viable. Maybe someone says something perfectly mundane in an interesting way. Maybe you hear someone describing an everyday occurrence in a way you’d never seen it (positive or negative). Maybe you overhear something just plain weird. Maybe someone says something that, taken out of context, could mean something completely different from what they said. You never know when these things will come in handy or what could spark the beginnings of a character, a story, or a world.

However, you don’t want to only write things you hear, you want to record things you see, things that catch you attention. Describe unusual people. take notice of telling traits people have. People watch, and use this time to practice describing your environment in unique ways. Concentrate on imagery and capturing a moment in someone’s life, then use that moment to build a character and a life. What happened to give that person that limp or that scar? Where did they get the money to dress entirely in designer clothes? What about that ugly girl makes that gorgeous guy look at her with so much love? Sometimes, all you need is one great character to start a story.

These aren’t the only ways to use your world to entice your muse back into residence. You could take a single, innocuous line from a movie or a book and create a new situation around it. Try looking through magazines or websites like Flickr and Photobucket and create scenarios using the images you find. Read a published novel or short story and pick one or two techniques they used well that you would like to experiment with (point of view, setting, dialogue/exposition balance). Research things that interest you (the Middle Ages, cancer survivors, home schooling, apple farming, etc). Mostly, however, you have to learn to be receptive to the things going on around you and never, ever, be without a notebook. Inspiration strikes at the strangest times.

2 thoughts on “Inspiration: Mining the World for Ideas

  1. Angela

    I absolutely can't go on a vacation without taking something to write on. I learned my lesson–once, I was in the car for a quick day trip and inspiration struck: the words, “There they go, arm-in-arm. And arm.” I had to write it down, but all I had was a grocery store reciept.

    I wrote an entire scene about a zombie using his detached arm as a flower bouquet to win over another zombie on that paper, cackling as my hubby sent worried glances at me from the driver's seat. The scene was so clear, and the end line to the scene so funny, I had to get it down. I would have written it down on my own arm if I'd had to, lol.

  2. Sera Phyn

    LoL! That's a perfect example! I know that similar things have happened to me many a time, though, admittedly, not with zombies and flower bouquets. 😉

    But there have been plenty of times where a line, description, scene, character, something has popped into my head. I used to be forever scrounging up bits of paper and hoping I didn't lose it! Luckily, with the development of PDA cell phones, I am never without easy access to a notepad, even if it is tiny and electronic!

    Thanks for the comment! Glad you enjoyed the post!


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