I just learned today that before it became known as the kind of out-of-reach thing that all writers seek, the word inspiration originally meant “to draw in air.” Of course, to inspire, can still mean to breathe in, but knowing the history of the word gives me a new appreciation of this part of the writing process. We “draw in” the things we see around us, the things that make us feel something. And we breathe them onto the page in front of us.
In my experience with talking with writers and readers, it seems like one of the most common (and at times, most frustrating) questions we writers receive is something along the lines of “Where do you get your inspiration?”
I’ve never been sure how to answer that question (“Umm, from everywhere?), but especially with National Novel Writing Month fast approaching and thousands of people trying to come up with ideas for their novels, I have a few ideas for how to draw in inspiration.
For me, inspiration often comes from an object I see around me. For example, one day my eyes happened to catch on a tree in winter whose branches spread out like a fan, and I imagined its hidden roots did the same. I thought that tree was like an hourglass, and that was how my poem, “Hourglass,” started.
Or, for a novel: The idea for my first novel, Dreamweaver, came from my finding pennies in the coin slots of gumball and toy machines. I wondered what would happen if there was one person who left lucky pennies lying there for kids to find.
See what works for you. Are your ideas prompted by things you see in the world around you? Or maybe the things people say make you question our intriguing world. Or maybe you need to experience something before your characters can experience it.
The other thing I always tell younger writers that I think works for writers of any age is to ask “What if” questions about the world. What if lucky pennies brought dreams to life? I think every story starts with a what if, and writers just start by wondering.
I think the biggest thing is not to expect to find inspiration by just sitting inside. My best ideas have come while I’m outside, seeing the things that make me wonder. I’ve heard a lot too that “my ideas just come to me,” that you “can’t rush them.” That’s not true at all. After going through NaNo so many times, I’ve discovered, strangely, that you can find inspiration on a deadline. You just have to go outside your own mind. Take the beauty you find in the outside world and draw it in.