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.
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