Tips and tricks for finding inspiration as an author and learn how to use them to fuel your writing.
The thing about being an author is that you never know when inspiration will strike. It can happen at any time, in any place. And so it was with me. As I was sitting at my desk one day, pondering what I would make for lunch when the idea for a novel came to me. As Tommy Cooper would say, just like that. It sometimes happens. We’ve all experienced that tingly moment – or Bam! to the system when you know you just have to get this down.
However, there are times when the muse – if you believe in such a creature, seems to have rolled over, pulled the duvet higher, and continued to slumber. Or has taken herself off to another writer. Tarts, that’s what muses are.
Being a writer can be both incredibly rewarding and frustrating. The opportunity to do what you want for a while. To not feel bored. To have something that you are engaged in outside of the workplace (if, like me, you also hold down a regular job). To contribute to the creativity and culture in the society you live in. To explore the world around you, the people and creatures in it – including yourself. Few people get to experience that outside non-secular institution.
Not everyone has a message to get across, or a passion to ‘spread the word’ via storytelling. Those writers who do will mostly focus their productivity on a theme or similar themes throughout their books. These writers are, in many ways, very lucky. They are starting their craft with a reason to do it. For the rest of us, who want to be creative storytellers without a message, or who want to try our hand at variety, we must put a little more effort in.
I came to writing via the visual arts. I studied Graphic Design before the advent of computers. I specialised in Fine Art, sculpture at university. I taught myself to paint when we lived somewhere small, so sculpting was out of the question. I started writing late in life. I was almost 50 years old when I began. I’ve never been stuck for an idea. Here, I’m going to give you some suggestions, tips etc for finding and using inspiration. With all these ideas, it doesn’t mean that each thing you encounter will immediately set you running for the laptop or book, but they will provide food for thought for future projects.
- Always carry a notebook. You’re a passenger on public transport or in a car. Someone is always talking or there is stuff to look at. Learn how to observe. Take notes. Keep them. People having conversations around you. Even one sentence can inspire a tale. When you’re spending the evening with friends, quite often one of them comes up with an anecdote – turn it into something.
- Most people today carry a mobile phone. If you do – use that camera! I have files on my Google Drive filled with photographs that the majority of people would think are rubbish. So what? A weed in a paving crack, a tiny attic window, a hollow tree, a flaky front door. They may not start an actual story, they may simply spark a scene or chapter. If you don’t have a mobile phone, make a little sketch in your notebook! Yes, that notebook from tip 1.
- Collect images. Collect them from the internet – they’re free. Keep a folder on Google Drive and fill it with stuff that piques your interest. Cut pictures from magazines, newspapers, and journals. Pull bits of old billboard poster off – yes I have done this and used it to inspire description of old layers. Visit charity and junk shops and find old postcards and photographs. Heck – take photographs inside the junk shop – there may be a magic mirror or poison chalice lurking at the back!
- Newspaper cuttings. I have a plastic wallet-like folder which contains snippets of headlines, news stories, adverts, and phrases. On a day when you want to try writing a short story, do your own lucky dip. The first one you pull out, that’s what you write about.
- Ask a friend. When you want to write a short piece of fiction for the sake of practice, ask a family member or friend to suggest a topic. It’s likely they will come up with something you would never have thought of, and perhaps don’t like the sound of – go with it.
- Online prompts. These are my least favourites. To me, they seem somehow contrived. But, if you are a fan of the internet, then grab something from one of the many ideas/prompt generators.
- Using pen/pencil and book. Once a week you must pick up the pen and book, and open a fresh page. Set a timer for 3 minutes. Write. The first thing that pops into your head. Whatever it is, run with it. Keep writing until the time is up. It does not matter what you have written, the act of putting pen to paper is far more useful than people give it credit for. A lot of writers say they break into poetry this way – using pen and paper slows you down, and you enjoy the physical process and the pace of development. After a couple of these exercises, increase the time to 5 minutes, then 10. Do this for as long as you feel ‘stuck’.
- Competitions. Short story competitions are a great way to encourage one to come up with something and draft, write and edit within a limited timeframe. When you have completed your story, you don’t necessarily have to submit it if you don’t feel confident in the results. But why not give it a try? You never know!
- Change your preferred genre. Most authors have a single genre or set of sub-genres that they write in. Getting out of this comfort zone can trigger a different thought process. For instance, if you write fantasy romance; knights and damsels in distress, the schlock horror sub-genre is probably not your cup of tea. However, a little writing exercise in that genre could well trigger something for future use.
- Daydreaming. Remember when you got told off at school for staring out the classroom window? What were you looking at? Nothing, in all probability. You were daydreaming. You probably couldn’t recall what you were imagining even an hour after the fact. But as we mature, we’re encouraged to focus, to stop wasting time. How sad that we have no time for letting the imagination ‘wander lonely as a cloud’, to misquote Mr Wordsworth. The human brain needs rest the same way our body does. Let it recoup. When you are not expected anywhere, or at work, or have chores, stop. Just sit down, and look out of the window. Stop thinking. Relax. Feel yourself settle into the furniture. Dare to dream.
- Read. Every successful author tells you this. Read. Read books by old authors, new authors, up and coming authors. Books that are not of your writing genre. It doesn’t matter. Your vocabulary won’t expand unless you read. If you have a favourite author, ask yourself why they are. What is it about this book that so appeals to you? What has the author done to engage you? Reading allows you to take in fuel. Like your body won’t work if it’s empty, neither will your imagination – there is nothing new under the sun (Ecclesiastes 1:9).
- Rewrite exercise. Take a short scene from that favourite book we just mentioned in tip 11. Now turn it on it’s head. Rewrite it so that there is a different outcome. The characters may reverse roles, genders, sex, attire, or function. What you come up with isn’t the point, it’s a way of thinking a little differently than you do usually when you write. Sometimes we get stuck in a rut because we feel like we’re writing the same thing. Zhuzh it up a little.
Creative types are magpies. We pick up a little trinket here, a shiny bauble there. But magpies are always on the lookout. If inspiration does not come easily, you should be too! I hope you have found something of use here.
Everyone knows the Shakespeare quote about achieving greatness, but not many recall the following line, which I will leave as a parting ‘gift’.
“The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars, but in ourselves. I wasted time, and now doth time waste me.”