Methods to find writing inspiration are as varied as life itself. Inspiration is like a drug, and when it fades, despair often takes its place. So many people slowly lose their creative spark to the mundane and incessant demands of daily life.Though I have always wanted to be an author, a decade of devoting myself to teaching English followed by five years of finding my footing as a freelance editor essentially zapped my writing soul until the universe saw fit to send me a couple of huge wake-up calls. Of all things, it took being abandoned by my ex-husband and then going through breast cancer treatments to bring my writing spark back to life.
Although practically everything can be a potential source of inspiration, a person has to open themselves to the possibilities. Kudos to you if you’re the type of writer who oozes inspiration out of your pores and must get words down on the page or else. Those of who who find getting words down a greater struggle just might be inclined to smite you with all of prodigious output. I jest. But still.
This year, I will be covering a revision exercise on photography and writing, punctuating dialogue, outlining a novel, writing characters’ thoughts, using past perfect, and bringing setting to life. Feel free to explore Word Bank’s archive of writing posts. In particular, you may find Writing What You Know Versus What You Don’t of interest.
Subscribe to Win: One subscriber to Word Bank’s email list will receive a free critique or copyedit of up to 5,000 words at the end of every month. You must be a subscriber to be added to the drawing, and winners will only be announced via the email list rather than contacted directly.
In short, here are five methods to find writing inspiration:
Freewriting and Journaling: I constantly fight with trying to break myself of a serious self-editing habit, so freewriting is a great way to discover ideas without the pressure to shape the material that transpires. Specifically, I enjoy loop writing, which is a structured form of freewriting where the writer underlines strong lines and then starts a new prompt based on those lines. This can be drawn out as long as desired, and it yields a lot of potential topics. I also keep an ideas notebook and a dream journal.
Collecting Images: I used to collect photos from National Geographic and laminate them for use in classroom activities. Now I use them to get my creative juices flowing. An online image search can also accomplish the same thing, and Pinterest boards can add to the writing inspiration pile as well. Any image is a snapshot of life rife with a myriad of story starters.
Overhearing Conversation: During a trip to NYC, while being herded like cattle to the top of the Empire State Building, an old woman gripping her walker cried out, “Is this the ride? I thought this was the ride! Is it going to start soon?” Immediately, I wondered, what’s her story? Not too long ago, I misheard a couple’s first names pronounced as “Demon Jill” rather than as “John and Jill.” You tell me? I’d love to read about someone with such a nickname.
Finding Objects: My grandmother’s collection of thousands of buttons is one way I trick my brain into wondering what type of character a button would belong to. An abandoned car, a ghost town, a lost baby doll. Everything is just a potential story waiting to happen. To that end, browsing yard sales or thrift shops can serve the same purpose, as can wandering around art museums. Stories are everywhere!
Traveling and Trying New Things: It’s great to be be able to travel the world, but methods to find writing inspiration can be found close to home as well. I still want to write a story based on the chain smoking French tour guide named Effie who led the way to the Temple of Poseidon under her shade umbrella while wearing high heels. If travel isn’t possible, take a class outside of your comfort zone like belly dancing or pole dancing.
When I started this blog, I was in a big rush to publish, but things didn’t go as planned. For that, I am grateful as experience had not yet forged all that needed to transpire for me to find conviction. The fiction I am most drawn to bears the stamp of literary realism, and I liken myself to a raconteur of personal upheaval and wanderlust. Even when I do write fiction, I tend to draw heavily from real life at times. Creative nonfiction is where I am most at home.
Looking for even more methods to find writing inspiration? Check out this post from Write To Done titled 31 Ways to Find Inspiration for Your Writing.
What methods to find writing writing inspiration do you find most useful? What interesting tidbits have you encountered lately that might make good material for a story?
Please share responsibly. Jeri Walker, 2018. Post may contain affiliate links. Image credit: Fountain Pen.
You could probably summarize these tips as being attuned to the world around you, listening and seeing, being curious and open.
Ken, and writers are indeed a curious and open lot. You never know when they might end up taking inspiration from the people in their lives 😉
I find music can be a great inspiration. The genre I listen to often involves intricate storytelling and it can spark a story idea. (My last book was sparked by the story within a song.)
Alex, songs really are great places to seek inspiration. There are a couple of Bob Dylan songs that have led to vague story inklings rattling about in my head for years now.
Since I’m heavily into memoir right now, I can say that just opening that door, even just little bit, with a short remembrance of a seminal event or encounter can really get the juices going.
Larry, it really is amazing how opening the floodgates of memory can lead us down so many writing paths.
So far, the one thing that has encouraged me to write is taking writing courses.
Glynis, my most productive years for personal writing is when I was taking workshops on a regular basis. Lots of structure and outside deadlines always is great for my output.
Writing inspiration is all around us and I get the inspiration from life and people, their hypocrisy, their impatience and arrogance, their distractions and callousness, my list is endless Jeri. So I could say “inspiration oozes out of my pores” but I need the right state of mind and a peaceful place to let my emotions unleash. Stumbling blocks do hit me at times and I just go back to my Kindle. Reading too inspires. 🙂
Balroop, thanks for sharing all that inspires you. I totally agree that reading is a great source of inspiration as well. For me, that would cover all of the nonfiction articles I am constantly reading on a variety of topics. I am an information addict!
When I was a kid and stuck in the backseat on a drive, I’d look out the window and wonder about the lives of the people in the houses we’d pass by. Especially if we were out at dusk when people might have turned their lights on but not yet closed the curtains. I find myself still doing that, always wondering what stories other people can tell. Unfortunately, I rarely have a notebook with me at those times. I guess you would say my curiosity about other people is inspiration for writing.
Marie, I’m still prone to looking into windows when I walk my dog and dusk. There are so many infinite slices of life to behold.
Love this post today, Jeri. I’ve been feeling a little stuck due to personal stuff and I’m looking at my desk right now and seeing the same papers and books strewn about for the last week. It’s time to clean up and start with a clean slate. Great suggestions for inspiration here. I especially like the idea of perusing photos to use as a prompt. I haven’t done that which is weird because I find photos to match my blog topic, so it’s kind of the same.
I also love hearing snippets of people’s conversations while out places. Some of them are hilarious while others are dramatic and often there is a spark there for a fictional plot or character.
How generous of you to provide a give away once a month for subscribers! that’s so awesome!!
Thanks! I hope the drawing works out well to bring in more readers. Overheard conversation snippets are awesome. A while back, I was a at a bagel shop and sat near a table of maybe si oldtimers who were talking about the good old days. So many potential stories in those overheard threads…
I really enjoyed this blog. I especially liked your description: “…a raconteur of personal upheaval and wanderlust.” Always delighted to learn a new word and hear a new turn of phrase.
Niki, I’m glad I could bring a new word and new turn of phrase. It’s taken me years to be able to formulate a description of myself as a writer that feels accurate and that I can be fairly happy with.
I once wrote an entire play based on a 60 second conversation I overheard in high school. I asked myself as I started to write what those people would be like once they hit their 10 year high school graduation. Would they have matured? Would they still care about the same things as high school? I was only a few years out of high school at the time so imagining the scenario was interesting.
I love all these exercises. I’m sure a couple of big life events like you just had would shake up the inspiration. But it’s great to have ways to go out and seek inspiration when it isn’t there naturally.
Erica, thanks for sharing about the play you wrote. It would be interesting too to go back and write a play with the same slant again, but only now your perspective would be different.
Great suggestions! I’ve written short stories from images. Music, a walk outside, and even television gives me some creative prompts.
Denise, you’ve done some really great song prompts on your blog 🙂
Great ideas here. I’m glad you forged on here and I’m excited about your subscriber contest too!
Christy, I think the subscriber contest is a good idea. I just need to buckle down and work out a solid marketing plan for it.
Such a good collection of ideas for seeking inspiration, Jeri. I usually have too many ideas and need inspiration to figure out what to do with them.
RoseMary, every now and again there is an idea or two that really sticks and those are the ones we decide to fly with.
I too struggle with self-editing as I write. I’ll have to try loop writing.
Donna, self-editing can be the worst, but I’ve learned to make as much peace with it as I can.
I’m reading this while riding an Amtrak across country so your point about traveling really resonates with me at this moment. I love watching the people and hearing snatches of their conversation. So many good stories!
Happy travels! I’ve always wanted to take a long train trip.
Great sources of inspiration! I know one story I had spawned from a line that popped into my head. I then spent the next week trying to figure out how to make it into something bigger.
Loni, isn’t amazing how one line can end up being so fruitful?
You are an amazing teacher in so many ways.
I feel as if I’m writing all day long. I mean, I have the
book inside my head, but it’s all mixed up!
BTW, have you read Big Magic yet? WOWie!! xx
Kim, that’s means a lot that you note I am a good teacher. It’s high-time I start applying all this knowledge to getting my own writing done, eh? I’ve not read Big Magic, but it’s on my audible list. I really enjoy Elizabeth Gilbert.