Finding Inspiration for Writers

Finding Inspiration

We all know that writing is not just about assembling words, but also about assembling ideas. When we actually sit down to write, we may have our ideas all worked out in advance or we may have no idea what we want to say – just a desire to say something. But either way, the one thing we could always use more of is inspiration.

In the work-a-day world, some of us must labor at uninspiring jobs, which dries up our creative juices. Others may be so driven to write a novel or a screenplay, but haven’t yet found a thing to say, sometimes leading to the doldrums we call writer’s block. For all of us, though, life intrudes, making it difficult to find and fan the spark within, Yet even in the worst of it, we all share the immutable desire to express ourselves through the written word.

So how can we break our Muse free from that straight jacket and let the ideas flow? Here are a few suggestions to try.

You might begin by writing about yourself. Even though you want to create fiction, writing a short autobiographical piece is like a warm-up exercise. This works because you don’t have to invent anything, just choose the words. Think of it as priming the pump.
Often I have written material as a means of getting something off my chest, out of my thoughts, or perhaps just to get a grip on nebulous feelings or issues by forcing myself to put them into concrete terms.

You can do this exercise on social media and share with friends, or if it is too close to home, you can just keep it to yourself. But in either case, you’ve greased the wheels and the is absolutely the first prerequisite to finding inspiration.

Some of what I write this way has actually turned out to be salable as extended anecdotes, essays on personal growth, or insights into meaningful emotional experiences. But, most of what I have written for my audience of one remains with me. Perhaps it is too personal to share, or just too personal to have meaning to anyone else. No matter, though. It has done its job and now I am ready to work on the story I really want to write.

If writing autobiographical material isn’t your cup of tea, try this: Pick three random words out of thin air. I’ll pick Red, Ground, and Rover as an example. NextI’ll ask myself what those words might mean, if they were all taken together… Red, Ground, Rover. Rover could be a dog. Ground Rover could be hamburger… No, that’s not right… Moving on… Maybe these three words could be about someone roving over red ground – perhaps a Johnny Appleseed kind of guy on Mars. Now we’re cooking Okay, let’s run with that idea.

(Remember, the point here is not to create an actual story but to jog your creative process.)

Blurting out something that has no conscious intent behind it can be a useful trick in overcoming writer’s block. It seems that writer’s block most often occurs when we are intentionally trying to determine what we want to talk about. But, when we just put something forth and then try to figure out what it might mean, a myriad of possibilities suggest themselves.

If you like, take a moment and try it. Just jot down a few nonsense words to create a phrase. Then, consider what they might mean. Rather than attempting to create, you are now in analysis mode, the inverse emotional state of trying to produce something out of nothing. You’ll probably be surprised at how many interpretations of your phrase readily come to mind.

Now if you still aren’t ready to write, you can carry this a little further. Going back to my example, I’m thinking, Mars is red, and the Martian Rover explored the planet. Looks like I’m starting a science fiction story.

But what to do next? How about another nonsense phrase: “minion onion manner house.” What in the world does that mean? Let’s tie it in to the first phrase. Suppose there is some underling (minion) who is hunting for wild onions on Mars (onions being so suited to the nutrients in the soil that they grow wild in isolated patches). The underling works at the Manner House of a wealthy Martian frontier settler, but is known as Red Ground Rover because of his free-time onion prospecting activities.

Now, these phrases weren’t planned as examples for this book. To create an actual example, I just blurted them out as I suggest you do. And once they are out there, just as we see pictures in ink blots, animals in the clouds, and mythic figures in the constellations, we impose our desire for patterns even on the meaningless. And in so doing, we often find unexpected inspiration.

More than likely, none of our ideas are suited to what we are attempting to write, yet we have successfully dislodged our minds from the vicious cycle of trying to figure out what to say. And, returning to the specific task of our story, we are will just as likely be surprised to find that writer’s block has vanished while we were distracted.

Melanie Anne Phillips
Creator, StoryWeaver

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Trouble Finding Inspiration for Your Novel?

For many authors, the hardest part of writing is the raw invention needed to come up with an intriguing plot, compelling characters, a meaningful theme, and an involving genre.

Often this is because authors tend to focus so hard on what their stories need that they aren’t even considering what THEY need to be inspired.

Here’s a tip: Next time you find yourself feeling particular creative and motivated to write, take note of your surrounding and yourself. Assess the situation and conditions that might be contributing to your proactive mood.

Keep these observations in a log so that you can look for recurring patterns over time or at least common elements, such as the time of day, the location, having had a good night’s sleep, lunch with a friend, after watching a particular genre of movie or listening to a particular style of song.

The first benefit is that you can begin to see ahead of time when these elements are expected to be present and to be prepared to take advantage of a visit from your Muse. The second benefit is that you can arrange your life to bring these elements into conjunction so that you can more easily write-on-demand whenever you choose.

This tip is taken from our StoryWeaver Story Development Software in which the whole first section helps you find inspiration and then grow those creative ideas into your characters, plot, theme, and genre.

Learn more and try it risk-free at Storymind.com

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Smothered in an Avalanche of Ideas

One of the writers I coach recently wrote to me about getting drowned in a sea of ideas for his story, unable to organize his material, make choices, or more forward.

Here is the note I wrote him in response that might have some value for y’all:

I noticed in our previous work together that you often came up with multiple potential plot lines for your story, all equally good, but mutually exclusive. In other words, you have a lot of creativity and keep coming up with a fountain of ideas but they are incompatible with each other if they were placed in a single story, and you have trouble choosing the ones that work together and rejecting the others.

You are not alone in this. Another creative writer I have as a client has the same problem as you. He created a whole universe – a wondrous fantasy world with the potential to be another Harry Potter success but this time in a fantasy land focusing on a young girl – so inventive, so imaginative. But, every time he came up with another great idea, it would shatter the storyline he was working on and break it into pieces like shattered glass. He couldn’t put the pieces back together again and so he came up with a whole new storyline in that world in which the fragmented pieces could be sprinkled.

The sad thing was, each of his storylines was wonderful, but he rejected each because of new ideas he couldn’t fit into them.  I believe that is the same problem you have. Basically, you are so durn creative that you pour out wonderful new ideas all the time. But because they are inspirations, they don’t necessarily fit into what you’ve already written.

Now for most writers who aren’t as inventive as you and my other client, selecting a single plot and a single story is the way to go, simply because they don’t have bushel baskets of other ideas about their story’s world. But for you and my other client, the answer is something else. And it is actually very simple. And, in fact, I’ve already given the secret to both of you, but neither of you has used it, and for the life of me I haven’t figured out why yet.

I’m thinking that your answer is not to reject any of the wonderful ideas but to create a series of books, each of which opens a whole new aspect of what we learned in the previous book. In fact, each new book may completely change what we, the reader, thought was going on in the last book we read, because now a whole new perspective has been created that throws everything into a different context and creates a different meaning.

You just pick the story you want to tell first – make that choice – then pull together all the creative ideas that work around that storyline and put all the other ideas into a sack to be used in later books in the series. That way, no idea is ever rejected, it is just earmarked for down-the-line.

So, with my other creative client, we worked out a master story arc of five books, each of which revealed a different aspect of his story’s world until all his creative ideas were included. And that’s also what you and I did – working out multiple stories that would eventually be able to use all your different storylines and situations.

But, to my surprise, neither of you actually got past that point. I don’t know if the desire to “get it all in one book” is too strong to consider a series or if, perhaps, the idea of the potential tedium of a whole series which requires sticking with a particular story world for a long time is a motivation killer.

In the case of my other client, as soon as he saw he had so many ideas it would take several books to express them all, he dumped his whole story world of fantasy and started a whole new story set in the New York world of high-competition design.

This is the curse of the overly creative mind. It has nothing to do with talent or manner of expression or intelligence. It is just that in some folks the Muse is ramped up so high that the new ideas drown their ability to complete – they are constantly drawn to the next truly wonderful idea and cannot help but lose interest in the idea they ostensibly are supposed to be working on. Once it becomes work, the new ideas are far more interesting because, beneath it all, there is more to being a writer than being creative. It also requires an innate ability of self-discipline – to nail oneself to a chair and write, day in and day out and even when it is deadly boring, unpleasant, unsatisfying, and mind-numbing. That’s how books get written, whereas overly creative minds with equal ability in word play will get nowhere because there is too much to lure them from the drudgery.

That’s the best advice I can muster about why this happens and what to do about it.

One other answer I suggested to my other client was to write his work as a series of short stories. Don’t go for a book-length plot, even if you are aware of every step in that plot. Just write a series of short episodes, each informed by the overall plot line, but each as a stand-alone that doesn’t require the others to be read and enjoyed. In this manner you can muster enough self-discipline to complete something in short form before being dragged away, and eventually can bundle all those short tales in your story world into a single book or series of books.

Other than that, however, unless you can bring yourself to pick one storyline and put in the focus to stick with it until it is done, putting all new ideas into a sack for later, I imagine you’ll continue to be frustrated.

So you really have a choice to keep on going as you are or to create a series of books for all your ideas and new ideas but stick with the first one to get it done, or to go to the short story method and then bundle them into books when you reach a “critical mass.”

Someone once said, “I hate writing; I love to have written.” The choice is really up to you.

Melanie Anne Phillips
Creator, StoryWeaver
Co-creator, Dramatica

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Finding Your Story’s Core

Every story has a core – that concept at the center that pulls all of the story elements into a cohesive whole, establishes meaning and message, and provides the story with an overall identity.

There are four fundamental kinds of cores, though each has endless variations.

1. Situation stories that are all about a fixed situation people must grapple with, such as being stuck in an overturned ocean liner, locked in a high-rise building with terrorists, being handcuffed to a murder, being the only member of a group with a particular gender or race, having a physical deformity.

2. Mind stories that are all about fixed mind sets such as exploring or overcoming prejudice, belief in something that defies all evidence to the contrary, an unreasonable fear, a determination to accomplish something even if the reason for doing it has vanished.

3. Activity stories that are all about external efforts such as a trek through the jungle to obtain a lost treasure, the attempt to build the first self-aware artificial intelligence, a race across a continent in the 1800s, the effort to find a cure for a virulent new disease.

4. Psychology stores that are all about the thinking process, such as trying to come to terms with personal loss, grappling with issues of faith, overcoming addiction, growing to become a true leader, or manipulating someone.

Which of these four kinds of cores best describes what you want your story to be about and how you want it to feel?

By picking a core, you will have a central defining vision for your story that will keep it on track during development, and your completed story will come across with a powerful unified impact on your readers or audience.

This “core” concept is at the heart of our Dramatica story structuring software.

Melanie Anne Phillips
Creator, StoryWeaver
Co-creator, Dramatica

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Writing Tip of the Day

Lose your Muse?

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Writing Tip of the Day

Trouble finding your author’s voice?

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Writing Tip of the Day

Stalled on your first draft?

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In Search of Your Writer’s Identity

Sweet potatoes are the best.  And they are best described in Ralph Ellison’s story of a black man coming to terms with his identity entitled “Invisible Man,” in which he has always avoided eating his favorite childhood food, hot buttered yams sold by street vendors, so he would not be stereotyped, as he now works in an office in a suit.  At the end of the book he finally accepts his true love of the food, stops by a vendor, puts down his briefcase and eats the wonderful sweet salty treat with abandon, proclaiming in his mind, “I yam what I yam.”

Personally, in 7th grade art class, we were given an assignment to bring in pictures to illustrate how to show distance.  One techniques was loss of detail.  I brought in a picture from Mad Magazine where a little boy had just cut off the tail of a cat with a pair of scissors and labelled it “Loss of De Tail.”  He looked at it for a moment and said, “You want to add this to the other examples in your portfolio?”  Man had no sense of humor.  He lost it by living a life as someone he wasn’t.

In each of the two narratives above, one fictional and one a true story, two different people for completely different reasons had stepped away from who they really were to fashion lives that didn’t reflect them at all.  They felt justified in doing this when it started because they never imagined the path would lead them to where they ended up.

It starts with a single compromise to oneself – doing a job you hate to achieve something you want or putting your own art on hold to pay the bills.  But to maintain that compromise, you need to make another, and another in support of it until you’ve built up a whole network of interconnected dependencies that form the bars of a framework behind which you are self-imprisoned.

You’ve put so much effort into building this thing called “your life” that you can’t bear to let it go – like a cancerous tumor you’ve become really attached to, to the point you won’t let anyone remove it from you for fear of the consequences.

Captain Kirk said, “I need my pain,” when he was offered the chance to become “magically” angst-free in one of the movies.  Our angst is the scar we wear, the badge of honor for all the suffering we endured on the way to the life we have fashioned for ourselves that we never really wanted.  It defines our struggle, so it defines us, or at least who we have become.

But is that who we really “are” much less who we would want to be?  Of course not.  But are we willing to change?  Hell, no!  We’d not only be risking everything and everyone we have, but would then have to face that fact that some of those aren’t the things and people we really desire.  And then there’s the kids, and all those who depend upon us, and our responsibility to future generations….

Shakespeare said,

Who would fardels bear,
To grunt and sweat under a weary life,
But that the dread of something after death,
The undiscovered country from whose bourn
No traveler returns, puzzles the will
And makes us rather bear those ills we have
Than fly to others that we know not of?

But in this case, it is not the after-life we fear, but life itself.  Can we really face having to acknowledge we’ve spent years of our lives weaving a fabric with a horrible pattern that doesn’t reflect us at all?  And wouldn’t THAT be dandy, to not only have to face such knowledge, but then to crash it all down in order to be ourselves so all we end up with is lost time and nothing at all to show for it?  Gambler’s syndrome – if I spend a little bit more I’ll eventually score big enough to cover all of my loses and still come home a winner.

No, it’s not an easy place to go.  But as artists, we head right for that place like lemmings, subjugating our Muse “until later” or because we need to be “responsible.”  Seriously?  What kinds of lame excuses are these?

Don’t lie to yourself that it will happen someday, because it never will – not on its own.  It will only happen someday if you make it happen.  And there’s no time like the present.  Yeah, sure, okay,  you’re not going to abandon your family and head off to another continent to rediscover your Muse (though some have done just that).  But you probably won’t.  I never have, but then I’m no example of much of anything, ‘cept to myself, of course.

No, you’ll probably want to write the great American (or some other nationality) Novel or Screenplay, and you’ll “grunt and sweat under a weary life.” to try to make that happen while still trying to maintain everything else.  After all, J. K. Rowling did just that, didn’t she?

But honestly, how many J. K. Rowlings are in the world?  One, of course,  So give up the dream of writing what you want and expecting it also to make mega bucks.  Could happen, but you’ll probably have better odds with the Lotto.  Besides, as soon as cold, hard cash enters the picture, your Muse seizes up in a mental charlie horse, all twisted up and contorted into a Gordian knot of creative deadlock.  Oh, yeah. That’s fun.

Listen my friends (I can call you my friends, can’t I?) if you want to be happy in writing, just write whatever you freaking want.  And write it how you want.  And tell it the way you want it told.  And never sell out your Muse for security – oh, no…

Sure, take words-for-pay job on the side but realize it has nothing to do with your creative self.  Be truthful, it’s just for the money.  Differentiate between your worker-bee self and your inventive spirit self, and don’t ever, not now, never, under any circumstances lock the two together or they will both go down into the deep and you along with them, waving to you like Ahab on the whale of reality as your inspiration sinks below the waves leaving no one to tell the tale because the writer in you just drowned in self-pity and was never heard from again (though some mindless husk continues to crank out text under the same name).

You yam what you yam.  Eat it.

Melanie Anne Phillips
Creator, StoryWeaver
Co-creator, Dramatica

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Writing Tip of the Day

Trouble fitting ideas together?

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Forget Your Protagonist – Who’s Your Main Character?

For just about any story you read, you get a sense of who it revolves around – who is it really about? Who is the character whose shoes we stand in, through whose eyes and heart do we see and feel the story at the most passionate personal level?

In Gone with the Wind, for example, the two most prominent characters are Rhett and Scarlet. We like Rhett, but it is clearly Scarlet’s story – the whole thing revolves around her, what she thinks, what he feels, the plans she makes, her attitudes, and so on. Rhett, as charismatic as he is, does a lot of things, but he even disappears for quite a while at one point in the picture, but that’s okay because Scarlet is the core of the story. So, she’s the Main Character.

In both the book and movie of To Kill a Mockingbird, Atticus (the Gregory Peck part) is the protagonist. The Story Goal is to try and save the black man wrongly accused of raping a white girl in the 1930s south. By definition, the Protagonist is the one pushing forward the effort to achieve the goal. So, that is clearly Atticus. And his opponent, the Antagonist, is the father of the offended girl who wants the man lynched. That’s the plot and Protagonist and Antagonist fight for it. But, neither of them is the Main Character, and we can tell this because we don’t stand in either of their shoes – we don’t see the story though either of their sets of eyes. Rather the Main Character is Atticus’ young daughter Scout. She is also the narrator of both the book and movie, but that is not what makes her the Main Character. Rather, it is that we see the story through her eyes – a child’s view of prejudice.

And there is one more character – the one I want you to focus on creating next for your story – the Influence Character! In TKAM, it is Boo Radley – the Boogeyman who lives next door. While the logistic argument of the story is between Atticus and Bob Ewell over the trial and the fate of the defendant, the passionate or philosophic argument is all about Scout’s prejudice against Boo without ever having seen him. And in fact, he turns out to be the one who has been protecting her from Bob Ewell all along. In other words, any time we make judgements about someone without knowing them, that’s what prejudice is all about. That’s the message of the story. And that’s why Atticus is NOT the Main Character. If he was, we’d stand in his shoes, be all righteous defending a black man, and nothing would be learned. But by standing in Scout’s innocent shoes and still finding ourselves to be prejudiced (because we buy into her fear of Boo) the message is made.

From these examples, you can see that while a protagonist is essential as the driver of the quest for your goal, the passion and message of your story revolves around your main character, who may or may not be the same player as your protagonist.

Use this perspective to ensure both your plot and your message are clearly and powerfully represented.

And use our Dramatica software to develop both your protagonist and main character, whether they are the same player or not.

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