The title does not contradict my previous statements on inspiration. It is inconstant and should not be relied upon as part of a writing process if you want to achieve a regular body of work. I do, so I don’t rely on it. I write through all the different shades of feeling.
Feeling ill? Still writing
There’s a new season of that show I like on Netflix that I have time to binge watch? Still writing.
However, inspiration is pretty wonderful and when it lands upon you, it is like mainlining the universe. In Ancient Greece, they referred to it as a spirit called a daemon. Inspiration, in that context, can be seen as summoning it so I will use that metaphor going forward. Sit down, kids, this is going somewhere interesting.
Sources of inspiration:
The most obvious one is reading. I include audiobooks amongst this, as the science supports that listening to one resonates in the brain in the same way looking at words on a page or screen does. I will break that down for you into some further definitions.
Fiction – I say this and it is kind of hammered into you that if you are a writer, you should be reading. The why of that, to me, is the following reasons. It allows you to see the possibility of what can be done on the page. There are no right or wrong books to be reading. A good book can inspire envy as well as much as a bad book can inspire contempt.
Reading as a writer is different from reading as a reader. You want to see what effects are possible, then you look at how and what the writer uses to convey that effect. Don’t see this as an adjunct to dry, literary analysis, think of it as figuring out what they did and how you can reproduce it in your own writing. It is not plagiarism, which is stupid to do in the days of software that can analyse and point it out, although people still do it and even sell books online with it. Warren Ellis, the comic book writer, offers this up in terms of comic books. Tear it apart, use the entrails to see a possible future for your work. Chuck Palahniuk has a lovely quote that I use.
“Nothing of me is original. I am the combined effort of everyone I’ve ever known.”
You should do the same with bad writing too. What that means is subjective to you, but if you get that faint sense of ‘I can do better than that’ or not even the faint sense where you resolve yourself to a vigilante crusade to burn every copy of that book in existence, then you can still learn something useful from it. Bad books have a malign sense of energy, and some of the subjectively worst books have been the most popular. Slag Dan Brown off all you want, he won’t hear you from atop the massive pile of gold and escorts that he sleeps upon.
So, read, listen to fiction. It gives you scope for your own work.
I also add that it is good to read outside of your genre. If you want to work in a particular genre, it is arrogant not to read the leading proponents of the style. Who those are is also subjective, but I believe that if you read outside of that, then you can incorporate elements to make your voice unique. It is healthy and lends itself to original work, if you can do it in a natural way. What matters is that you look to make those elements organic, not some Frankenstein’s Monster literary hybrid that lurches from the slab with lightning running through it’s decayed veins.
I will refer to Tom Clancy for this:
“The difference between fiction and reality? Fiction has to make sense.”
I would argue that any written non fiction is fictional in construction. Actually it is not me who argues that but Steven Pressfield because you are still choosing which moments and perspectives form your account. Reality television is not, because it is not a dogme 95 camera trained on a fixed point and neither is non fiction writing. I digress though.
Non-fiction is a mine of inspiration for me. It is an education awash with pleasure because you can pick up a great deal of images, incidents and story prompts from the stuff of life itself. You can change the names, details but keep that little spark there alive and you have something that resonates whilst still having the plausibility of real life.
Pick a subject, look for the good stuff and let it wash over you.
I work a day job, lots of us do. Your colleagues, your customers are all potential sounding boards and sources of inspiration. Listen, ask questions that relate to whatever you were working on and need some juice to pump into your writing. Anecdotes are everywhere, and you should use them wherever possible, legal issues and ramifications withstanding.
I hope these points are of interest, and that they help. Feel free to disregard what does not work for you, and please offer up your own points in the comments or to me via the contact form at the bottom of this post.