Inspiration - You Tricky Thing
Have you ever visited someplace completely new to you? When I was 15, we took a trip around the United States, and one of the places we drove through was the Badlands in South Dakota. It was a stormy June; most of the snow had melted, but the storm clouds running down the Rockies made the whole area moody and mysterious.
This was in the 1990s, so we still had cassette tapes. I had a couple of Celtic music cassettes purchased at a previous stop. To this day, whenever I hear a haunting Celtic song, my mind goes back to those Badlands. The moody skies, the rocks cut deep into the ground, the endless emptiness of the space.
It is easy to see why it is sacred to the Lakota and Cheyenne.
I have always wanted to write a story in a world like that, but still have not found the story line.
Types of Inspiration
Inspiration comes in many different forms. Sometimes, you have a setting, like I do for the Badlands. The place is most important to the storyline, and almost becomes a character. For these stories, the account cannot take place anywhere else. For my series, Lancaster Aloyisus, the series is set in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, USA. It can't take place anywhere else.
A theme is another inspiration. What is it that you are trying to tell your reader? Is it to move them to a better place? To challenge their thoughts? When I started working on Azure Maris, I was frustrated with Christianity and its narrowmindedness. For me, life doesn’t end on Earth, and I find many Christians refusing to accepting an improbable possibility. The theme of Azure Maris is How Big is Your God, and that drives the entire series.
Another might be in the form of a character. Mederei is one of those inspirations. The character of Mederei – this young woman who is a gifted weaver, but also punished for her weaving, and therefore must hide her magic, was a character inspiration. The entire world was based around that character and her story.
Lastly, a plot is the inspiration. This is often in response to a question. Many folktales fall into this category as they are simply answering questions – why does the Milky Way look like that? Why is the Sea Salty? Genre stories, especially Romance, Mystery, and Adventure fall into this category.
I find the act of finding inspiration to be relatively easy (and there are probably people out these screaming at this revelation). One place I go to is Pinterest. I have a couple boards dedicated to various series, or inspirations. Mainly, some pin appears, and I decide – oh, I like that, it is perfect for this character. I pin it to the appropriate board.
If I find something that makes me think, I will usually pin it to my Story Inspiration board which acts as a holding space.
Another place I find inspiration is reading other books, both fiction and non-fiction. Many of my non-fiction books have little notes in the margins for story ideas. With fiction, I tend to play out a character or situation I find interesting. I developed an entire storyline based upon my favorite book, though to look at them now, few would see the connection.
This, perhaps, is the hardest part of inspiration – holding onto it. It comes, and if you don’t pin it down immediately, it is lost forever. I have found a couple of different ways to aide my memory. One is using the sticky notes that come on computers. Currently, I have three ideas on there. Another place is my journal, and a third is in my day planner.
But, inspiration is not always a plot, a theme or a character. Sometimes it is a setting or a sound. I find cellphones to be especially helpful in this case because I always have a camera available or a microphone to catch audio.
Once you have a collection of ideas you can begin to go through it and see what sticks out. If you have a collection of pins on a board, or stories in a journal, going back through when you are stuck for ideas will help find inspiration.
But it still isn’t working!
You have been collecting and holding onto your inspiration; you looked through the inspiration boards and journals, but you are still stuck. That is a problem most writers face at any given time in our lives. Some of it could be writer burnout or lack of information. If that sounds vaguely like writer’s block, it is because it is.
The first step is to figure out why you don’t have inspiration. Are you creatively burned out? Is there too much other thins going on in your life – stressful job, a new baby or upcoming wedding, relationship issues. Are you stuck because you don’t have enough information? Is the story needing something else, but it isn’t there yet?
Depending on the situation, you have options. We will break them down.
This happens to a lot of writers. We just hit a point where we can no longer create. This is a time to evaluate why you write, but it is also a time to take care of yourself. Find something that you enjoy like music, walking, painting or something else. I do recommend doing something creative that is not writing. Allow your writing muscles to relax.
Evaluate your schedule. Are you working too hard? You have to make certain to give your body time to take care of itself, and your well-being needs a break.
Generally, if something else is in your life, I say relax on your writing. For example, when my dad had his heart attack, I got sick and Leon had his health scare, I had to stop writing for a little while. I managed to write in my journal, but that was about it.
Other big events like a wedding or new baby require a lot of energy. Allow yourself to take a break until after the wedding or the first couple of months of birth.
Lack of Information
This is my biggest issue when I am stuck – not enough information. This is hard to pinpoint because we do not know what our missing information is. If we knew, we would have missing information. At this point, the best thing is to step away from the problem or go over the article and see if you can find the problem.
When All Else Fails
Now, you have tried everything. You are not burnt out, no stress, and there is enough information and it still isn't happening. You have tried to approach it all from different locations; tried different creative art forms, but it still is hard.
I have two suggestions: Let it go. There is nothing wrong with simply taking a long term break. It may be that writing is not something for you. This would be a good time for evaluation.
If, like me, you know you are to be a writer, and are stuck, the second suggestion is Push Through. Fight for your inspiration. Find a series of story starters or journal ideas and work through those. Free writing is also a good idea.
When I wrote daily, I found that I had to writer - push through the lack of inspiration and find something new. On the other hand, I did reach a point when inspiration did not strike, I took a break from writing for a month or so, just allowing my being to relax. I continued to write, read, and fill my brain with ideas and inspirations.
Eventually, the ideas returned.