Get Inspired Mondays, Writing

Get Inspired Monday: Guest Post by Janice Hardy

Today’s post comes to you from fantasy author, Janice Hardy. Please read, get inspired, and then check out her fabulous blog on writing, as well as her books: THE SHIFTER and BLUE FIRE.

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Author, Janice Hardy

It’s Everywhere!

When Amanda first asked me about writing something for her Get Inspired series, she said she was looking for stories about inspiration from unexpected places. One such event popped into my mind immediately, but in reality, I get inspired from weird places all the time. I’m a firm believer that inspiration is all around us, and the trick isn’t to find inspiration, but to figure out what to do with all those bits and pieces of it.

Example One: The Groundhog

My husband and I were driving to lunch one day, and as we approached the stop sign at the end of our street I saw a groundhog sticking half out of the storm drain. What he was doing there I have no idea, but it was such an odd thing I pointed to it and said, “Sewer dog!”

Now, I have no clue where sewer dog came from. Maybe it was a mix of the sewer and the groundhog/prairie dog thing or something. But as soon as I said it, I had this instant flash of mutant dogs living in the sewers, and teens that had to go hunt them in a rite of passage. At that point I didn’t know what else was going to happen in this future story, but I knew there was a story there somewhere. I created a “Sewer Dog” file and made notes. For a year after that, I’d spot other little things and get that flash again, and every time I did I added it to my file. Eventually I had enough to write a story called “Man’s Best Enemy” about a post-apocalyptic Atlanta and the Hunters who have to deal with these mutant dogs. (Published in the Eight Against Reality anthology)

What I Learned From This: Stories grow from random details. We say all the time, “that would make a cool story” or “that would make a cool first line.” Save those thoughts and build on them. You don’t need inspiration for a full story right away. It just needs to start you thinking.

Example Two: Great Lines

My friend Phil is always saying really funny things, and one day he said, “It was a horrible thing to do to a perfectly good lunchbox.” The conversation was one of those off the wall ones, but that line hit me in such a way I knew that the boyfriend in a science fiction YA I had in the works would say something exactly like that. The voice, the tone, the attitude, all of it really clicked for this character that was barely more than a name and a role in a file. I still don’t know where that line will go in the book, or if it’ll even make it into the book, but that character has a soul now.

What I Learned From This: Write down great lines when you hear them. I have a “Great Lines” file that has all the awesome lines I’ve heard or thought of but don’t know what to do with. Snippets of dialog, a bit of description, whatever it is, save it, because that line could spark something greater one day. Or be the perfect piece for a problem you’re struggling to work out.

Example Three: Crushing Rejection

Several years ago I was pitching a novel at the Surrey International Writers Conference and attended one of their Master Classes on, conveniently enough, Pitching Your Novel. I was really jazzed about this because I had a pitch session with an agent the next day and I really didn’t know what to say about my novel. Brave soul that I am, I volunteered to write my pitch line on the board as an example for the instructor. He tore it apart. Asked me questions I couldn’t answer and ripped my idea to shreds. It was horrible and I called my husband after the session in tears and told him I was going to cancel my appointment. My novel was a failure and I was wasting everyone’s time. He was dutifully supportive, and suggested now that I knew what was wrong, maybe I should use the rest of the conference (which started officially then next day) to learn how to do it right. And I did.

That entire conference was filled with inspirational moments. As hard as it was to have my idea brutalized, if that hadn’t happened, I wouldn’t have been paying as much attention to the things that I needed to hear. I would have been focusing on selling my novel, revising my novel, making my novel better, not “what makes a great novel” overall. And that’s what I needed to move forward as a writer.

I came home from that conference and dug through those files, the ones with all the inspiration ideas. I found one from years before about a boy who could shift pain. That rough outline clicked, inspired me again and I went on to write the first book of the trilogy I finally sold. The Shifter.

What I Learned From This: Inspiration can be sitting there and if you’re not in the right mindset, you don’t even see it. I was so focused on doing a few things I shut myself off from new ideas. It wasn’t until I was shaken out of that mindset and given hard motivation to think differently that I found the exact thing I was looking for. Sometimes you have to take a step back from what you know to find what you need. I still use that today when I’m stuck on a plot. I forget about what I “know” has to happen and think about what could happen. And then the ideas come.

Inspiration is everywhere, all the time. Sometimes it hits us in one big flash, other times it builds up over weeks or even years. But as long as we keep our eyes open for it, we’ll find what we need when we need it.

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A long-time fantasy reader, Janice Hardy always wondered about the darker side of healing. For her fantasy trilogy THE HEALING WARS, she tapped into her own dark side to create a world where healing was dangerous, and those with the best intentions often made the worst choices. Her books include THE SHIFTER, and BLUE FIRE. DARKFALL, the final book of the trilogy, is due out October 4, 2011. She lives in Georgia with her husband, three cats and one very nervous freshwater eel. You can visit her online at http://www.janicehardy.com/ or chat with her about writing on her blog, The Other Side of the Story.

This post was part of Get Inspired Monday! — a series created to help you dig into your week and find inspiration in unexpected places.

On Tap March 14th: YA writer, Natalie Whipple 

23 thoughts on “Get Inspired Monday: Guest Post by Janice Hardy”

    1. Thank YOU, Janice! I was so glad to have you here.

      You cited some great examples, and it was interesting to see how your observations and ideas later came to the printed page.

      Eyes open, everyone!

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  1. I LOVED this. The part where you tell us that if it weren’t for the tearing apart of your proposed novel, then you would never had gone on to the novel that was to be: The Shifter.

    That example gives me chills: the first had to happen, for the second to happen.

    How wonderful that you went to the conference, and how perfect that the instructor that day was not one to just say “GOOD JOB!”

    Fantastic story, and one I will remember everytime I sit down and write something. “Be open to something different…no matter what YOU think.”

    I am enjoying this series, so much, A. I get something here, I don’t get anywhere else. You’re really helping a lot of us out, in case you don’t know that yet.

    Thank you

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  2. Yay, Amanda and Janice–a wonderful post of inspiration, thank you both!

    Janice, you are doing such a wonderful thing by sharing stories such as the one about the conference “disappointment”. It’s so important for us all to be reminded that NO ONE moves forward in this craft without some pretty painful exchanges, BUT those exchanges DO help us to grow–whether it’s through the critiques or simply toughening the skin for the next round.

    Congratulations to you and best wishes!

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  3. Great post! That’s what I love about being a writer – inspiration can come from absolutely everywhere, even events seemingly unrelated to the topic at hand. A documentary about a tribe in Africa or a woman’s conversation at a flower shop have both made it into my novel in some way.
    David Sedaris, who writes personal essays (which are hilarious by the way), has said that he keeps meticulous files on these kinds of daily occurances. He even goes so far as to index and cross reference them! But it works. If he needs an anecdote about monarch butterflies (?) he can look at his index and go right to it.

    Thanks to Janice for this uplifting post!

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  4. Great post. It’s so true that ideas are everywhere. Sometimes when we travel, I look at the names of streets, stores, and towns and they help me come up with unique names and settings. Thanks for sharing about your conference experience. It helps give the rest of us the inspiration to keep going on even if there are rejections along the way.

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  5. Very cool and great to hear. I have kept a great lines file for a while. I usually end up saying this stuff into the recorder on my phone and transcribing later which is interesting when you’re wondering things like “what did that lunchbox have to do with a Sewer Dog?”

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  6. Alexandra: It was such a horrible experience but I’m so glad it happened. Not only did it get me onto the right book, it make me realize that adult wasn’t for me. I’m a teen writer! I always wanted to write for teens, but somehow got sidetracked along the way. I needed a hard shove to get me back. It’s a cliche, but no pain, no gain for sure in my case.

    Erika: Totally. I try to be candid about my journey, because there are hard bumps along the way and I think writers need to be prepared for those. But bumps aren’t the end of that journey, and once you get over them, good things can and DO happen.

    Jacquelin: Most welcome. I love the idea of an idea index! What a cool concept.

    Natalie: Oh, I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been on a road trip and an exit sign with two towns on it made a fantastic name for a character. I never thought about it for settings (it’s a fantasy writer thing) but that’s a great tip for settings.

    Educlaytion: LOL Sometimes I have a hard time reading my scribbled notes and have no clue what it was I was trying to say.

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  7. Great post, very informative. It serves as a reminder to me that it is vital to always have my notebook in my pocket or at least very close to hand.
    I think the most profound moment of inspiration that I have had came totally out of the blue. I was driving home from work deep in thought as usual, when two lines of poetry suddenly came into my mind and I had to pull over and write the lines down, almost in a state of panic because I didn’t want to forget them!

    Adam

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  8. “I’m a firm believer that inspiration is all around us, and the trick isn’t to find inspiration, but to figure out what to do with all those bits and pieces of it.” I agree completely. Some people are just waiting for the next best idea to come to them, but all they need to do is open their eyes. Great post!

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  9. This was a terrific post that took me through a range of emotions. The sewer dog inspiration example made me chuckle and my heart ached as I read the idea shredding. I’m so glad the experience resulting in inspiration and eventually, a book sale.

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  10. I’m nodding and moaning as I read, because I have these random snippets. I’m sure they’ll even save my bacon one day, but I have no organizational system. I can never find the exact one I need.

    Can I ask, do you keep yours on paper? There has to be a better plan than post-it notes. 😉

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  11. Adam: I’ve woken up in the middle of the night with ideas like that, and I didn’t write them down and forgot about them by morning. Only took a few times of that happening before I started keeping pen and paper handy.

    Jason: Thanks!

    KLZ: Even half-closed eyes can spot things 🙂 Heck, even closed eyes, which is why we often have great ideas in the middle of the night!

    Medeia: Thanks!

    Lifeinthebommerlane: I’m grateful every day for it. Sometimes I think about where I’d be now if I hadn’t gone to that conference. I’d probably still be writing the wrong thing.

    Janna: Thanks so much. One of the great things I’ve discovered about blogging and doing guest posts like this, is that it makes me take a hard look at my journey. So much has happened that connected to both good and bad things, but they all led me here. That makes the hard stuff easier to take because I know some good will come out of it.

    Jan: I write them down on paper if I’m out and about, then type them into an ideas file on my computer. I have a file for great lines, and then individual files for book ideas. Oh, and a file for possible story ideas. Once I have enough where I can see it can turn into a book one day, it gets its own file.

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  12. Wonderful post, Janice. I think those moments of rejection are just as important as the affirmation we receive. If you know what’s not working, then you know what to fix. It gives you a greater advantage than walking around with blinders on.

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  13. Great post. I especially liked this line

    “…when I’m stuck on a plot. I forget about what I “know” has to happen and think about what could happen.”

    I need to remember that.

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  14. 36×37: Thanks! I think they are, too. Shifter was an easy book, but the three before it were hard and didn’t sell. Those “real” submission experiences made finally getting my agent and book deal all the more sweet. I appreciate them a lot more.

    Shauna: It works great, and I do it every book.

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  15. My fear of an experience like yours, Janice, keeps most of my words hidden. I need to accept that it’s a rite of passage, maybe even consider it an initiation of sorts, and approach it with a thank-you-sir-may-I-have-another attitude.

    Congratulations on all your success!

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  16. Janice (and Amanda),

    Wonderful post, thank you! I love the idea of keeping those one-liners in a notebook. I did that for a while and once scratched down tidbits of conversation, in the dark, at a concert. Then, I got out of the habit.

    I also love this: Sometimes you have to take a step back from what you know to find what you need. Perfect advice for me these days.

    Like

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