Finding Inspiration

One of the great myths of the creative arts is that of inspiration. How many starving artists are out there waiting for inspiration to start their next project? Too many. Really, if you want to be a not-starving artist, you can’t just wait for inspiration to find you. You are going to have to go out and find inspiration, or learn to work without it. I recommend the former.

Inspiration isn’t all that hard to find. You just have to keep your eyes and ears open. Inspiration plays all over the world. At bus stops, playgrounds, in line at the bank, on the airplane, at the garage while your car is on the lift, at the public library, on the side of the highway when the cop pulls you over for driving erratically, even a billboard could provide the inspiration you are looking for. When you actively seek inspiration you will find it all over the place.

Right now, I’m sitting with my writer friends who are seeking inspiration in random image searches. I’m not sure how focused they are but they are all talking about the images in terms of stories. I’d lay money on one of them coming up with a new story from this minor distraction from the actual writing. I’ve found more than one story idea in the middle of a giggle fest with my friends – you know one of those conversations where someone says something completely off the wall and someone else one ups them until you are so far from reasonable that you can’t help but laugh.

Inspiration hangs out in the newspaper and trade journals. Many a story was hatched from articles in Science News. Who can tell how many contemporary stories got their start as a newspaper headline, or a front page picture. The real world is full of the story seeds. Even the gossip around the water cooler at work or the half heard story at the next table over when you go to lunch can provide you with the spark that starts a story.

These are all places to start. But what about when you are in the middle of a story and the inspiration runs out? That happens more often than professional writers really want to admit. The thing is, once you’ve started you don’t really need inspiration any more. Once the story is started, you need a plan and a routine. If you know where the story is supposed to go and you are in the habit if writing, you can survive a drought of inspiration. Those are the days when you struggle for the words and think about just giving up. If you’ve honed your writing habit enough, the urge to stay in your chair and tap at the keys will get you through. The words will be slow and in much need of editing, but that’s not the point. The point is to get you through to the other side where the story itself inspires you again (and it will). The secret is to practice this part – the slogging through the slow time. Enough practice and it just feels normal. Eventually you won’t even notice that you ran out of inspiration, you’ll just put your head down and get the story out so you can move on to shinier projects.

One of the best motivators in the known universe is a deadline. There is nothing like facing a deadline to break you of the need for inspiration. Have you ever noticed how high school and college students are so great at waiting until the last minute and then pulling amazing things out of nowhere to get through their classes. Or how about when your boss at the day job insists that something absolutely has to be done tomorrow. Isn’t it amazing how focused you can be? Well you can get that for fiction too. If you can’t live up to your own deadlines (many of us – me included – can’t) find a way to make it someone else’s deadline. Tell a friend you will have that story for them to beta read in two weeks. The simple fact that they are expecting it will give you the motivation.

The biggest example of this is the final week of November, when thousands of writers suddenly feel the pressure of that deadline at the end of the month to get their 50,000 words. NaNoWriMo is a crazy tight deadline if you stay on top of the 1,667 words per day goal. Yet so many writers slack off in the early weeks (waiting for inspiration). Then Thanksgiving weekend hits and they all notice that they only have a week left to get to the goal. Suddenly the word counts start soaring. In the last two days it’s amazing to watch how fast people can write when they have a fire under them. Suddenly they have all the inspiration they need and all the time too (though the dishes might be piling up a bit). The trick is to get that to work at other times of the year too, when you need it to. Posting publicly that you are doing something, or even just telling your friends about it will make it harder to ignore.

Inspiration is out there. Go find it.

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