Seeking Inspiration

Writers have active imaginations – fiction writers at any rate. It’s a job hazard. We call it a muse, creative juices, inspiration…

We seem to have been writing a lot of posts about the business of writing, so I thought it might be a good place for a bit of a break. When we go to conferences, we are often asked where we get our ideas.

I can’t speak for Marcy about where she gets her ideas, though I’m sure she’ll jump in. (She probably would have contributed more if I had thought to write this post more than 6 hours ahead of posting it…. yeah – I know. If I had ‘planned’ I wouldn’t be behind. I work better under pressure!) Me, I get my inspiration from a lot of different places.

The thing about inspiration is that it’s a starting place. I think a lot of people get caught up in the beginning idea and never work to develop the idea. My English teacher in high school used to say that every writer had a glass ceiling over their heads. All your initial ideas happen beneath the glass ceiling, but when you work on them, develop them, you can get past the big easy, the over-done, the unoriginal, to where new unique stories happen above the glass ceiling.

Movies

I love a good story in almost any form (though radio dramas tend to put me to sleep). I love to watch movies. I’ve had many story ideas come to me by watching movies – a twist on this concept or that, or how it should have ended, etc.

Books

Of course. Enough said? Whether it’s a encyclopedia, a biography, a fiction story – anything can be a jumping off point for a story.

People Watching

I get lots of great story ideas watching people at the park, at the mall, stopped at red lights, waiting in lines. Sometimes it’s a snippet of conversation, maybe the body language, a gesture or expression. It’s the seed of an idea.

News

I’m a news junkie. I’m constantly scanning the trending headlines on yahoo or whereever. I have this crazy story inspired by the Robert Picton story that happened out in British Columbia. I should get back to that story… 😛 Sometimes the truth is stranger than fiction.

Walking

When I’m stuck for new ideas, I go for a walk. CJ, my black lab, and I have taken walks at all hours of the day and night because I was stuck on a story. There’s something about the mix of getting active, new scenery, and fresh air that rejuvenates my creativity.

Take a break

Sometimes the best thing I can do is shut down the laptop and go do something else. I will do laundry, wash dishes, make cookies, take a nap (never underestimate the power of a good nap), or play with my kids. When I stop working so hard to find an idea, that’s when something pops into my head I can use.

But don’t stop with the idea…

Then you take that kernel, that seed of an idea, and you play with it. You noodle it for a bit. Maybe you write a few things down. One writer described the process (yes, he’s a planner – I’m surrounded) like working a ball of clay in his hands, shaping the idea, working with new angles and shapes until it begins to take form in his mind.

Where do you get your ideas? What do you do when you’re ‘stuck’ for a new idea?

Lisa

Reminder: As of the end of this month, Marcy and Lisa won’t be posting full blog articles here at Girls With Pens. Instead we’ll still be writing the posts on writing and social media that you’ve come to expect on our own blogs, and we’ll be creating a monthly Girls With Pens newsletter to bring you amazing interviews with industry professionals.

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Can You Write?

I’ve told myself a few times now over the course of the morning that even though it’s March Break and it’s utter chaos in my house, I still have deadlines. This blog being one of them. I’ve isolated myself while still being accessible because my children are home from school. The bank called to tell me I was late on a loan payment that I’ve already made. My dog Marshall ate–actually ate–an entire pair of my underwear this morning. Ewww.  My kids keep nagging me for things I’ve already said no to because they know if I’m distracted I’m more likely to give them what they want. What are we going to have for lunch?

And I’m supposed to be writing. I’m a professional, I tell myself. Professionals aren’t allowed to have writer’s block. I don’t exactly have writer’s block – I’d love to be able to write. But I can’t focus because of all the chaos in my house right now. But the problem is the chaos isn’t going away.

Then the doubts begin.

Maybe I shouldn’t have included that quote in the article I submitted last week. I’m sure it’s going to get people riled up. Won’t matter that I didn’t actually say it, or whether or not I agree with it. I shouldn’t care, but I sort of do.

I received contributors copy for a magazine that both Marcy and I write for. She wrote a stellar article on a hot button topic and the editor printed two entire pages of negative feedback from readers. Ouch. I feel bad for Marcy because that happened to me last November. Seeing the feedback from her article is giving me flashbacks. What makes people feel like they have the freedom to question my ability to write, my intelligence even, from one article? What if they’re right?

Maybe I should get a job that pays regularly? My girls need braces, my sister-in-law is getting married and we all need new clothes not to mention gas money for the 18hr drive each way…

It goes on. Do you have days like this?

Here are some thoughts on how to combat the writer’s doubts that assail every writer from time to time.

Declutter

What I mean is jettison all the ‘stuff’ that’s crowding in and taking up mental space. I have had to learn to compartmentalize certain things or else get nothing done. If I allowed it to, the noise in my house, the work that needed doing, all the outside clutter would never let me write anything. Obviously, I’m better at it some days more than others.

Prioritize

What projects, achievements, are the most important to you? Focus on those. Fulfill your commitments, I’m not saying bail on anything already agreed on, but take time to decide what you want out of this writing adventure and do something every week that gets you closer to that goal.

Remind yourself you can write

I keep a folder in my inbox with all of the emails I’ve received that affirmed me as a writer. When I’m down, I go back and read through those. Maybe it’s a note from your mom, your boss, an editor, anyone whose opinion you respect. If you don’t already keep one of these files, I suggest you start one. I also keep a separate binder of the published work I’m most proud of and I look through that also.

Get out

Get out of the house for a while. Go for a walk, play with the dog, read a chapter in a book, play a game with your kids. Sometimes you just need a mental break to silence the doom and gloom in your mind. When you return you’ve got fresh wind in your sails. Just be careful not to fall into this too often because the temptation to stay away from your writing becomes compelling.

Just do it

Sometimes, the only thing to do is to work through it. There have been times it’s taken me two days to write an article that should have taken a couple of hours. It happens. It’s not time efficient, but there is something to be said for the discipline of staying with it and working it through.

Chat with a friend

Marcy and I often have email pity parties. Thankfully we’ve never had one at the same time. Do you have a friend who encourages you when you’re down, smacks you (proverbially) when you need it, and hugs you (virtually) as often as possible? They are worth their weight in gold.

Remind yourself of the why

Remind yourself of why you choose to write. This is a tough tough job market to break into and burnout seems common. There are many stories of writers who need alcohol or drugs just to function and perform. Remind yourself why. I look at my kids and remind myself that I’m happiest when I’m writing, and a happy mommy makes a happy home. I also see how proud they are of the work I do and get excited over every contributor copy that comes in the mail. It doesn’t matter to them if the magazine is well-read or prestigious – maybe I shouldn’t worry about it either. I also turn to my faith. Writing is what I feel God has put me on this earth to do, and as long as I do that then I’m successful in the mission I’ve been given. I need to constantly re-evaluate how I measure success.

What doubts keep you from writing, and how do you combat them? We’d love to hear from you.

Lisa