On Inspiration

You will not free her because “You need the ideas?” You disgust me, Richard Madoc. You want ideas? You want dreams? You want stories? Then ideas you will have. IDEAS IN ABUNDANCE.

The quote above is from The Sandman by Neil Gaiman, one of my favourite authors. It’s from a story called “Calliope”, in which an author struggling for inspiration purchases a captive muse. He keeps her locked away and rapes her for inspiration. She appeals to Morpheus, the titular Sandman, for aid, and he supplies it with a heavy dose of poetic justice. The author goes mad from too much inspiration:

RICHARD MADOC: All the pictures in my head. I had to get them down, but I didn’t have any paper, or ink. So I used the wall. And my fingertips.

Sometimes, I feel a little bit like that. Too many ideas, and no way to write them all. I set up this writing journal as a way to ease that, to make sure that at least one idea a day goes from stuck inside my head to being read. On those good days, it’s not coming up with an idea that’s the problem, it’s choosing which one to work on. Choosing which one will work well in the space I have here, in the time I have in the day to write it.

On other days, I feel more like Madoc at the beginning of the story, desperately searching for a source of inspiration. On those days, I have to actively look for something to trigger an idea. Here are some of the places I look:

www.sxc.hu – a free stock image website, which has a “Randomizer” button. I click on it until I get a picture that sets something off in my head, although it can also be an interesting challenge to write something for whatever picture comes up first, even it’s just a texture.

www.postsecret.com – A fantastically artistic community project. People from all around the world put their secrets on postcards and send them to Frank Warren, who puts up a selection each week (changing on Sundays). You can also get books of the secrets. I think they’re a great resource for writers, because you can usually imagine a whole array of different stories that might be behind the secrets.

Fairy tales, legends and mythology – I might take a story and tell it in my own way, add my own twist or go back to an older version of a particular legendary creature and discard aspects that modern authors have added (no, my vampires don’t sparkle!). While reading about a mythological creature I might find a passing mention of something that I can spin a story from- Wolf Shore came about in this way, from a couple of lines on Wikipedia’s Werewolf article.

What if? – I am blessed with a supportive and creative boyfriend, who inspired quite a lot of my stories by saying things like “What if there was a troll under this bridge?” and “What if the local shopkeeper was a wizard?”. If I get stuck, I can often just ask him and he’ll throw a few ideas at me until something sticks.

Songs – Sometimes a story tells a song, which you can re-tell in your own way. Sometimes it doesn’t but you think it should, so you make one up for it. Sometimes just a title will inspire an idea.

Writing prompts – There are lots of places you can find these- essentially wherever you find writers in large groups. If you browse through posts tagged with “writing prompts” you’ll find quite a selection, and it’s usually easy to spin something off from them. Similarly, something I’ve just found but have yet to use at the time of writing- the Brainstormer.

Other sources of inspiration are just, well, paying attention to random things and being creative with them. Attack of the HUPs happened because I had hiccups one day, only because there was no “icc” in the noises I was making, I said I had “an attack of the hups” instead. My boyfriend immediately said I should make that a title, and that comment stuck in my head until a couple of weeks later, when I suddenly realised how to use it.

So, that’s a little insight into my inspiration. Care to add anything?

6 thoughts on “On Inspiration”

  1. I sometimes go to http://www.deviantart.com and browse the pictures (rather like you do with sxc – oh, I just got that, s x c – duh me.).
    Or, Freewriting. Works for me, every time.

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  2. Our favourite Gaiman quote is the one that goes something like… “Ideas are easy. The hard part is putting one word after the other until you get to the end.” Got anything you could submit to Broadsheet Stories?

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    • Yes, that is also very true. I’ve checked out Broadsheet Stories and I am very interested – a bit over my usual length, though, so perhaps after I’ve moved house this weekend I’ll think about writing something especially.

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  3. findingmyvoiz. said:

    I must commend you for the interesting stories you do.

    I have been doing short fiction for the past 2-3 months and it is fun. Three Word Wednesday and Sunday Scribbling are my favorite places for inspiration. Sometimes, when I am in a self critical mode, I think I am lazy to do only short fiction, the more hard-working types do novels.

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    • Thank you very much.
      There’s nothing lazy about writing, whatever you write! The short story can be harder to write than a novel- you have so much less time to get all the elements together.

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