29 July 2009

What Inspires You?

On Tuesday we talked about writers who make us want to write—authors who encourage us to keep trying, to keep putting pen to paper, simply by the power of their written words. These are the books that we can’t put down, and we don’t want to put down, but when we close that back cover our minds are whirling with the possibilities of the stories in our own imagination.

Today we’re going to talk about what inspires us. On Monday of this week, the writers of Novel Matters had a roundtable discussion about the importance of muse. It was something that really made me think. My muse is most definitely Nature. She inspires how and what I write in such a profound way. She plays a huge role in my stories.

But today’s discussion isn’t about muse, per se. I want to know where your ideas come from. Are they from random moments in every day life? Poignant memories? New experiences?

Maybe I’m just different—I have been told as such quite often in my life—but for each of my novels, the overall inspiration has been different. I don’t plot or brainstorm like most people. Usually there’s just one image in my head—a scene, a smell, a color, a sound—and I just have to figure out what that is, where it is in a story, how to get to that scene, and where to go from there. Sometimes it’s down right confusing. It usually takes a while, much like the story that’s percolating in my head right now…

For my last novel, the inspiration was a dear writer friend, Lynn, who died of brain cancer. Her dream was to be published and she was—several times over—before she died. She even started a writer’s group in our area and introduced me to yet another dear writing friend. The day of Lynn’s funeral, I saw a simple scene that I couldn’t forget. I also got one sentence, which I later discovered was the last line of the entire novel. From that sentence, I pieced together a tiny bit of the story and a predominant theme. But that was it. For the longest time, that was all I had: that scene, the final line of the novel, the color, and the setting. It would be another six months before I found the other chunk of the story, the characters, and the plot.

Sometimes I have a scene in the middle of a story; sometimes it’s just a smell. No matter how it comes or what it is, it’s always a mind-bending, somewhat confusing, and definitely interesting adventure to get to the finished product. It’s weird, it’s something that my professors in school never understood, and often, it’s frustrating. But that’s how my stories appear.

How about you? How do your stories come? Is it the same for each one? Or do they each act differently, just like the crazy characters that tell them?


  1. It's a character that knocks on the door of my brain.

    I can relate with so much of what you wrote in this post about how a story comes by way of a smell, an image, influence of relationships. I'm looking forward to reading your blog.

    One other thought: as I read this I kept thinking my stories come to me much like a seed planted w/in my mind, they grow into flowers and bloom in some ways all on their own. I just need to remember to water them.

    ~ Wendy

  2. Honestly, I don't know what spurs my muse into action. The most frequent precursor to a story idea is music. I'll hear a song and will immediatly think of a story this would go along with. More often than not, I'll just be sitting alone, minding my own business, and *wham!* I'll be hit with a story I can't get away from. I jot it down, turn it over in my brain, mull over it, and then I'm off on a writing rampage.

    I love reading how other writers get their ideas. It helps me look at things differently, hunting for clues to see if I can find my own inspiration.

    Not that I want to steal treasures from others, but I don't mind the chance to rummage around in their cast offs!


  3. Hey, Wendy!!! That's a great analogy. It's so true!!! And I love that you get the characters first! I think that's what's happening with the story I'm plotting now, so I know what you mean. Now I just want to know who she is and what's going on in her world!

    Jenn, I know what you mean! I think hearing how others plot, brainstorm, and weave their stories really helps me see different ways to do it... kind of like thinking outside of my own box. It's so easy to fall into the same pattern over and over simply because it's what I know... but I know that sometimes, when I do something different, that kick starts something else and gives me a story I never would have imagined otherwise.

  4. I think this is rather relevant. Plus, I knew you would appreciate it.

    "I gather stories the way a lepidopterist hoards his chloroformed specimens of rare moths, or a sunburned entomologist admires his well-ordered bottles of Costa Rican Beetles. Stories are the vessels I use to interpret the world to myself."
    (Pat Conroy)

    Stories, plain and simple, inspire me.

  5. LOVE IT, BARTON! That's so awesome--and so true!!!

  6. P.S., Barton, we're gonna talk about my favorite writer on Tuesday! Thought that would make you laugh! Oh, for a perfectly gloomy day!!! :0)