My wife often wonders how my mind works. I get my ideas from all over the place, and I’m a little bit weird. Adequately weird, I think. A few weeks ago I was feeling restless. I’ve been working on rewrites for a long time now. Months, really, and I was feeling I’d like to take a break and write a short story. Nothing too long. 5000 words or less. It’s something I can get a first draft out in a one day write, but as you can guess, putting the actual words on the page isn’t the only part of writing. I thought about it, poked my brain for ideas, and nothing. I’ve been feeling a bit of pressure in other areas of my life and I thought it might be stifling my creative process. I mean, it was, and I’m still working through it, but the problem was I didn’t feel inspired.
I got thinking about inspiration. I guess I didn’t really think about it much before, but looking back upon my work, I started to see a few patterns.
Firstly, and probably the form of inspiration I use most, comes from music. As I listen to lyrics, things pop out at me and get me thinking. For example, I was in the car and Rocketman by Elton John came on. I don’t know why I decided to put it on my phone, but it got me thinking about a guy with a rocket on his back. Then I started thinking about the sixties, which lead me to remembering about the movie The Yellow Submarine by the Beatles. Then, voila, I started writing The Psychedelic Postman. I did something similar with After Momma Died Carrying The Jelly Baby. There was a lyric about somewhere that said ‘Momma Died…’ something something. I forgot what it was, and then the term Jelly Baby jumped in my head. After that, the story wrote itself.
Secondly, I like researching things that interest me and apply them to a story. I wrote a story called The Hands of Erica, and I got the idea from a mathematical principle called The Hand of Eris. Basically the idea is that mathematically you can prove something right by proving all alternatives are impossible. For instance, we know a number is even because it is divisible by two. Therefore if a number is not divisible by two, it is not even, and so it’s odd. We proved a number is odd by proving that being even is not possible. I took that theory and wrote an entire story based on that idea. I’ve done the same in poems like The Islets of Langerhans or Weird Science Tales.
Finally, I, like most every writer I know, takes inspiration from their own lives. I tell stories from events, draw upon people I know for characters, and embellish like mad. Dice With The Cosmos is basically about my friend Gordon, and while the rest is based off of Chaos Theory, my second point, the characters all have links to real people. In the novel I’m working on now, Schism, I draw a lot from my days in the punk rock scene. Now, there’s a problem with drawing inspiration from your own life. It can be boring, or unbelievable, or it could just make no sense as life often does. I was in a workshop once and a woman wrote a story that was incredibly powerful. It told the story of a time when she was sexually abused. The point was that it brought her to orgasm, and she was ashamed of it. Now, no one in the workshop knew it was a story from her own life, so we treated it like fiction. I mean, it was fiction, but just drew elements from her life. Anyway, one member of the group said she didn’t believe a woman’s body would react like that, and the author became very offended and very defensive. Now, it’s all right to say something isn’t believable in a story, and maybe she needed to set the situation up in a different way, but when it’s from real life unbelievable things happen. Real people win lotteries. Real people survive gunshots to the head. That doesn’t mean it’s believable in a story. Worse, though, is when you write a story and cast yourself as a main character. It’s hard to write yourself as a main character, because when you write about yourself, you’re often right, often have the best motivations, and you lack flaws. Some people are really good at writing themselves as main characters, and really, I put a little of me in all my characters, but to actually cast myself as a character I really have to accentuate my flaws. So yes, draw from your life, but be careful.
To be honest, I think the best way to get ideas is to expose yourself to new things, and to daydream. Watch movies while thinking about what you would do if you were creating it, and then steal your own idea. Read books and when your mind wanders, let it. You might end up somewhere unique. Listen to new music. Buy a chapbook of poetry from someone you’ve never heard of. Take inspiration from a painting, a story someone tells you, or something you don’t understand and want to learn about.
So there’s a writing idea which says you should get to work as soon as you get an idea. Get it on the page. Don’t procrastinate or you might not ever write it. I understand, but I always think I need time for my ideas to stew in my head. I need to let them form, so usually once I get an idea it takes a week for me to actually have it ready for writing. I got an idea two days ago, and I’m hoping it’ll be ready for Sunday so I can spend a good long chunk of time on it. Once again, whatever works for you is the right way.
Now it’s your turn. As there is a comment section in the blog here, I want you to tell me where you draw inspiration from. Where do your ideas get their spark?