Aspiring writers love to ask me where my inspiration comes from. It’s easily in the top three questions I get asked, when I’m asked about writing. The top three questions I get asked when I’m not being asked about writing tend to be, “Why are you late?” “Who the f*&k do you think you are?” and “What’s that smell?” Ah, but that’s another story for another day, and perchance for another blog altogether.
So, where were we? Right. Inspiration! That elusive spark that Thomas Edison famously accused of accounting for only 1 percent of any work of genius, the other 99 percent being ascribed to sweat which, come to think of it, makes me feel a bit better about the last question listed above. Inspiration! The spiritual, emotional and intellectual rocket fuel that propels all creative people to action — but where does it come from? What, exactly, inspires a writer to write?
I think the answer is this: Each writer finds inspiration in her or his own way. Okay, my bad. That was actually the chickenshit answer. The airy-fairy touch-feely hokey-pokey mambi-pambi answer. I don’t think any of you have come to this blog looking for cloying cliches or boring bromides — or, for that matter, annoying alliteration and pugilistic pedantic pedagogery. No, no, no. You’ve come here for advice. Real, solid, I-can-use-that-shit advise. So here it is.
1. Read something great. In the same way that leafing through a fitness magazine will either inspire you to give up and grab a bag of chips, or to lace up your sneakers and go a-jogging (or, in my case, a-flopping) a great piece of writing will inspire you to either delete Microsoft Word from your computer altogether, or to sit yourself down in a big old puddle of words and snuffle about in them, like a happy little pig.
For the record, “great” is subjective. Some people, for instance, think Ke$ha is great. I’ve seen them. They wear glitter like body lotion. They are allowed to think Ke$ha is great, and you are allowed to have your own opinions about what makes writing great. You are even allowed to disagree with important and musty people, like college writing teachers, about what makes a bunch of words all strung together in a certain way great to you. My opinion on the matter leads me again and again to gorge at the trough of Mark Twain, Charles Dickens and Dean Koontz. You are free to disagree, just as you are free to smear glitter in your armpits.
2. Listen to people talk. Language is a living, breathing, evolving creature that exists invisibly in the air all around us. It is musical, magical and melodious — and I can’t seem to stop littering alliteratively this morning, and for that I am truly sorry. At least I’m not wearing body glitter.
Anyhoo, it can be inspiring to just go somewhere and listen to people talk. A cafe, for instance. I suggest you not be part of the conversation yourself, because I want you to focus on how other people put ideas together and spill them out into the world. You don’t have to be creepy about it. Okay, that’s not true. You probably do have to be just a little bit creepy to listen in on other people’s conversations in a cafe. But that’s just part of being a writer. Just try not to get yourself arrested, and if you do get arrested, don’t blame me for your having a wish to be a creepy writer. We are a creepy lot, at least sometimes. We get inside people’s heads, and their hearts, and we pay attention to the cadences of their speech. We try to catch the slippery fish of people’s words in the furry nets of our intentions. Creepy!
Do this: Try transcribing scraps of overheard conversations, just to see how they look and feel when transferred to a page. This is going to help your dialogue a great deal, though I am assuming, perhaps unfairly, that your writing includes dialogue, which, if you are, say, writing a blog for NASA on rocket robotics, it might not. Apologies. If your writing doesn’t include people talking in it, this exercise can still be useful in helping you to experiment with and develop a unique and compelling voice in your writing.
3. Listen to music. I think of music and language as being inexorably linked. Language began as an auditory experience, when our grunting and gesticulating sprouted linguistic legs and slithered out of the sea of ooga booga and galloped onto the grassy plains of poetry.
Nothing gets me more focused and motivated, emotionally, for writing, than music. When I’m writing fiction, I even create playlists for each of my characters. I will also find a song or set of songs that define the emotional arc of a particular section of a story, and I will listen to this as I write, or at least before I write.
Plus: Music is powerful, and can move you to do great things. Have you heard about those studies that show people actually experience pain less when they are listening to music while suffering? Exactly. Er, not that I’m calling writing suffering…except that it can be, sometimes. Crank up the jams, yo.
4. Exercise. There are lots of reports from lots of people about how their best ideas come to them while working out, or while taking a shower. Science types tell us that this is because, contrary to the dumb jock stereotype, exercise makes you smarter. Increased blood flow to the brain during exercise helps that mass of gray matter to work better, and some studies even show that exercise helps us to grow bigger brains. I get a lot of my ideas when I combine music and exercise together, entering a sort of glassy-eyed trance state on the treadmill. This scares other people at the gym, but I don’t care because it makes for great writing. Priorities! Exercise will also help you to build stamina, which you will need if you hope to write a book or two.
5. Join a Writers’ Support Group. Nothing motivates us more than accountability. Knowing that you have to get together with a bunch of other writers every week or month will keep you on track. It will also be a great place to get feedback on your writing, unless, of course, you join a writing group full of sucky writers, in which case it will ruin your writing. So don’t do that. Join a writers’ support group full of good writers, if you can.