What do you do when inspiration strikes? ‘Write’ might seem the obvious answer but it’s not always so easy. Inspiration alone doesn’t make a story or even a proper story idea and it can be frustrating when you don’t know where to start.
Inspiration can come from anywhere at any time but that doesn’t mean being inspired is an effortless process. You need to work with the initial inspiration to be inspired enough to start planning or writing. I love finding my stories so I thought I’d share some of my tips to help you through the process. Everyone does it differently but if you’re stuck they might be a prod in the right direction.
Before we start, I’d like to quickly clarify something. I’ve come to think of ‘inspiration’ and ‘being inspired’ as slightly different.
‘Inspiration’ is the what captures your imagination. The object or idea that makes you do a mental double take. You may even have a physical sensation you associate with it. I get a feeling in the back of my head. If you’re a writer, you’ve undoubtedly found inspiration at least once. It’s why we first pick up a pen.
‘Being inspired,’ is the next stage. It’s when you won’t leave your inspiration alone. You start examining it from every angle, prodding it and most importantly, asking ‘what if?’ Being inspired is how the inspirational place or object goes from something interesting you found to a cool story idea you’re itching to start.
So, inspiration hits. You need to turn it into something you can use. Here are some ideas how:
1. Capture the moment you first notice something interesting. For A Grey Valentine’s, my romance novella, this was when I passed a tattoo shop over a sweet little cafe. The juxtaposition stuck in my mind. I never saw that place again and I wish I’d taken a picture.
If a quote touches you, note it down. If you see something you like, take a picture. If you enjoyed a dream, write it down as soon as you wake up before it disappears. It can help to have your original inspiration on hand if you ever feel like giving up.
2. Don’t stress if you can’t. You don’t always have everything you need on hand and that’s okay. It just allows more room for your imagination to take over and make things shinier. Maybe the real cafe/tattoo shop was a dump, but in my head it can be as romantic as I like. Reality can be boring and that’s part of why we write, right?
3. Ask questions about everything. Remember when you were younger and your teacher told you about the who, what, when, where, why and how thing? That still applies.
If your inspiration was a place, think about who might go there? If it’s an object, who does it belong to? What do they do with it? Where do they use it? Why do they have it? How did they make it?
Ask all the questions you can think of and write down all the answers. You can clear it up later but for now, the important thing is to get yourself inspired enough to write this story.
Extra tip: you’ll notice all my questions about this inspirational object are linked to an unspecified character. This is important. Characters are the driving force of a story and if your inspiration didn’t present anyone then this will help you find at least the ghost of someone. Once you start planning you can flesh them out.
4. Research the answers to your questions. If you don’t know the answer to what you feel is an important question, try researching a little about it. What you learn can often spark even more ideas, but be careful not to get sucked into an endless cycle of Wikipedia pages and forget to actually write anything.
5. Flip it. If questioning and research are getting you nowhere maybe there’s a problem with your initial premise.
Originally in A Grey Valentine’s the tattoo parlour was longstanding and the cafe was new. The conflict between the two didn’t work. So I flipped it and it all made sense. Obviously a cute cafe won’t want a scary tattoo parlour opening above it and there I found the central conflict I could plan around.
Take your inspiration and see what happens when you invert it. It could be what you were looking for.
6. Mindmap everything you can think of. Having your ideas laid out visually can help you make links you wouldn’t otherwise see (plus they look really cool.) By hand is good but there are plenty of free programs online that you can use. I like Simplemind for my phone and the free version of Mindmup is simple to use online.
In the end, only you can create your story from the inspiration you found. Otherwise, it wouldn’t be your unique story. I hope these suggestions help you think about your inspiration differently.
If you have a tip I didn’t include but you think would help other writers, leave a comment or send me a message on Instagram. I look forward to hearing from you!