Saturday, May 24, 2008

31 Ways to Find Inspiration

I’ve compiled a list of some of my favorite ways of finding inspiration — some of them obvious, some of them less so. But it’s always good to have reminders, and if you haven’t used a few of these sources of inspiration in awhile (or ever), give them a go.

Blogs. This is one of my favorites, of course. Aside from this blog, there are dozens of great blogs on writing and every topic under the sun. I like to read about what works for others — it inspires me to action!

Books. Maybe my favorite overall. I read writers I love (read about my current loves) and then I steal from them, analyze their writing, get inspired by their greatness. Fiction is my favorite, but I’ll devour anything. If you normally read just a couple of your favorite authors, try branching out into something different. You just might find new inspiration.

Overheard dialog. If I’m anywhere public, whether it be at a park or a mall or my workplace, sometimes I’ll eavesdrop on people. Not in a gross way or anything, but I’ll just keep quiet, and listen. I love hearing other people have conversations. Sometimes it doesn’t happen on purpose — you can’t help but overhear people sometimes. If you happen to overhear a snippet of interesting dialog, jot it down in your writing journal as soon as possible. It can serve as a model or inspiration for later writing.

Magazines. Good magazines aren’t always filled with great writing, but you can usually find one good piece of either fiction or non-fiction. Good for its writing style, its voice, its rhythm and ability to pull you along to the end. These pieces inspire me. And bad magazines, while perhaps not the best models for writing, can still be inspirations for ideas for good blog posts. These magazines, as they don’t draw readers with great writing, find interesting story angles to attract an audience.

Movies. Sometimes, while watching a movie, a character will say something so interesting that I’ll say, “That would make a great blog post!” or “I have to write that in my writing journal!” Sometimes screenwriters can write beautiful dialog. Other times I get inspired by the incredible camera work, the way that a face is framed by the camera, the beauty of the landscape captured on film.

Forums. When people write on forums, they rarely do so for style or beauty (there are exceptions, of course, but they’re rare). Forumers are writing to convey information and ideas. Still, those ideas can be beautiful and inspiring in and of themselves. They can inspire more ideas in you. I’m not saying you have to read a wide array of forums every day, but if you’re looking for information, trawling some good forums isn’t a bad idea.

Art. For the writer aspiring to greater heights, there is no better inspiration that great art, in my experience. While it doesn’t compare to the experience of seeing the art in person, I like to find inspiring works of art and put it on my computer desktop for contemplation (Michelangelo’s Pieta is there right now). It doesn’t have to be classical works, though — I’ve found inspiration in Japanese anime, in stuff I’ve found on, in local artists in my area.

Music. Along the same lines, it can be inspiring to download and play great music, from Mozart to Beethoven to the Beatles to Radiohead. Play it in the background as you write, and allow it to lift you up and move you.

Friends. Conversations with my friends, in real life, on the phone or via IM, have inspired some of my best posts. They stir up my ideas, contribute ideas of their own, and they fuse into something even more brilliant than either of us could have created.

Writing groups. Whether online or in your community, writing groups are great ways to get energy and motivation for your writing. My best short stories were done in a writing group in my local college (a great place to look for such groups, btw), as we read out our work to the group, critiqued them and made suggestions. The work of the other writers inspired me to do better.

The Pocket Muse. A book full of writing inspirations. Can’t beat that!

Quotes. I don’t know why it’s so, but great quotes help inspire me. I like to go to various quote sites to find ideas to spark my writing, turns of phrase that show what can be done with the language, motivation for self-improvement. Try these for a start: Writing Quotes and Quotes for Writers.

Nature. Stuck for ideas? Go for a walk or a jog. Get away from sidewalks and into grass and trees and fields and hills. Appreciate the beauty around you, and let the inspiration flow through you.

Sunsets and sunrises, of course, are two of my favorite uplifting scenes of nature, and anything involving water is also awesome (oceans, rivers, lakes, rain, rivulets, even puddles).

History. It can be unexpected, but great people in history can inspire you to greatness. My favorites include Benjamin Franklin, Gandhi, Abraham Lincoln, Helen Keller, Leonardo da Vinci, and other greats.

Travel. Whether it be halfway around the world, or a day trip to the next town or national park, getting out of your usual area and discovering new places and people and customs can be one of the best inspirations for writing. Use these new places to open up new ways of seeing.

Children. I have six kids, and they are my favorite people in the world (my wife and siblings and parents being right up there too). I love to spend quiet time with them, taking walks or reading. I love to have fun with them, playing board games or having pillow fights. And during these times I spend with them, I’m often reflective, about life, about humanity, about love. I suggest that children, with their fresh outlook on the world, can change the way you view things.

Exercise. I get my best ideas most often while running. There’s something about the quietness, combined with the increased flow of blood through your brain, combined with being out in the fresh air with nature, that really stimulates the mind.

Religion. Many of you aren’t religious (and many are) but it doesn’t matter much — the great religions in the world have ideas in them that are beautiful and inspiring. I’ve studied some of the writings of not only Christianity and Judaism but Islam, Bahai’i, Buddhism, Taoism, and many cultures with multiple nature gods. I can’t say I’m an expert at any of these religions, but I can say that any time I’ve spent reading the ideas of religion have paid off for me in inspiration.
Newspapers. I used to be a newspaper reporter and editor, and I’ve become jaded to newspapers. The news seems like an endless cycle of the same thing, happening over and over again. However, if you know how to look, you can find human-interest stories that are inspiring. Stories about people who have triumphed over adversity. (Edit: I had “diversity” instead of “adversity” here and have now corrected … thanks for the catch, Bill!)

Dreams. I’m not very good at this, but at times in my life I’ve tried keeping a dream journal by my bedside and writing down what I can remember when I wake up. Not because I think it’ll tell me something about myself or my future or past, but because dreams are so interesting in their complete disregard for the rules of reality, for their otherworldness and plot twists.

Writing journal. I highly recommend this for any writer. It doesn’t have to be fancy, or something you write in every day. Just a plain notebook will do, although a nice journal can be motivating. Write down thoughts and inspirations and quotes and snippets of good writing you find and pieces of dialog and plot ideas and new characters. Then go back to this journal when you need ideas or inspiration. This popular bookmarking site is a treasure trove of great articles and blog posts and resources. I don’t do this much, but sometimes I’ll browse through these links to find examples of great writing by others. While you shouldn’t steal these ideas, you can often adapt them to your particular blog topic, or use the ideas to spark new ones of your own.

Poetry. How can poetry inspire prose? Through its beauty and flow and style and use of rhythm and play on words. Through its use of language and music.

Shakespeare. He’s not the only playwright, of course, but he’s undoubtedly the greatest, and the greatest master of the English language as well. While his writing can be difficult for those not used to the language of his time, a study of even one of his plays pays off immensely. The Bard wrote beautifully, used the largest vocabulary of any English writer, invented his own words, made up interesting phrases that are used to this day, had more puns and twists of words than any writer I know. There is no writer more deserving of our study and more inspirational to other writers.

Google. Stuck for ideas? The old standby, Google, has often helped me out. I’ll just search for the topic I’m writing about and find tons of great resources.

Freewriting. One of the best ways to get unstuck if you’re uninspired. Just start writing.
Anything. It doesn’t matter. Don’t edit, don’t pause, don’t think. Just write and let it flow. You’ll end up with a lot of garbage, probably, but it’ll help you get out of your rut and you might just write some really good stuff among all that garbage.

Brainstorms. Similar to freewriting, but instead of writing prose you’re writing ideas. Just let them flow. Speed and quantity is more important than quality. Within this brainstorm of ideas, you’ll most likely find a few nuggets of greatness. One of my favorite ways to get ideas.

Flickr. If fine paintings and sculpture inspire you to greater heights, photography of some of the most talented people in the world can show what everyday humans can do if they try. I like, a real wealthy of amazing photography. Just browse through to find some wonderful inspiration.

Breaking your routines. Get out of your rut to see things from a new perspective. If you usually take one route to work, try a couple others. If you usually get up, get ready for work, and leave, try exercising in the morning or watching the sunrise. If you usually watch TV at the end of the day, try reading or writing instead. Shake things up.

Success stories. Another of my favorites. When I was training for my first marathon, for example, I read all kinds of success stories of people who had run their first marathon. It inspired me to keep going. There are success stories for writing, or anything else you’d like to do, that will inspire your brains out. :)

People watching. This is an interesting activity for any writer. Go to a busy public place and just sit and watch people. They’ll amuse you, inspire you, fascinate you. There’s nothing more inspiring than humanity.

Taken from


Check out the Writing Show's First-Chapter-Of-A-Novel contest.

First Prize
An interview on The Writing Show
Chapter posted on The Writing Show Web site
And the eternal glory of victory!

Second Prize
Chapter posted on The Writing Show Web site.

Third Prize
Chapter posted on The Writing Show Web site.

Fourth Prize
Chapter posted on The Writing Show Web site.

Fifth Prize
Chapter posted on The Writing Show Web site.

Plus, for 10 lucky winners, chosen at random
750 words of feedback

Early deadline: May 20, 2008
Late deadline: June 20, 2008

See more at:

Forms of Writing

If you have writer's block, make a change and try one of these different types of writing.

  • Advice Column
  • Autobiography
  • Biography
  • Cartoon
  • Cheer
  • Complaint Letter
  • Essay
  • Eulogy
  • Fable
  • Fortune
  • Graffiti
  • Haiku
  • Horoscope
  • Invitation
  • Lament
  • Limerick
  • Love Letter
  • Movie Review
  • Nursery Rhyme
  • Rap
  • Restaurant Review
  • Resume
  • Riddle
  • Roast
  • Screenplay
  • Spell
  • Tall Tale
  • Wanted Poster

Friday, May 23, 2008

From A Writer's Workbook by Caroline Sharp

Stop 'n' Shop:

All you need for this exercist is a pencil, paper and your nearest supermarket. Make a list of shopping cart ingredients. Start with a relatively small group of items. See if you can come up with ten different cominations without repeating. Give yourself ten character profiles and write up their shopping list. Pick out a single item and fill in around it for as many different customers as you can.
Don't be afraid to make huge assumptions about these people based on what you see them buying. You can judge these shoppers just by what is in front of you right now. Why does the old guy ask for regular milk on Monday, 2 percent on Wednesday, skim milk on Friday and heavy cream on Sunday? Stranger than fiction.

Inspiration Cards

These inspirational cards from Errant Dreams are sure to keep you on your toes to write creatively.

Category 1: Images

These images are meant to inspire you through the process of free association. You can use them literally or metaphorically, or you might use them as a jumping-off point to find some other useful direction for your work.

A spacious and well-appointed dungeon
A car with a web of cracks in a side window
The splash of water on metal
Stacked bins of building materials
A slow swirl of snowflakes
A cluster of red berries that look like cherries but have no pits
A large tree whose branches dip down and touch the ground
A picnic on a dark red blanket beneath a wide-spread tree
A lightning-flash across a dusky sky
A field of corn stretches up impossibly high
Black ice
An intense cloud-to-cloud lightning show cupped within a small hole in the clouds
People, Creatures & Animals
The dragon with blue eyes
A small furless animal
A young man sits in quiet meditation
a star tattoed upon someone's brow
A man and a woman dance slowly together in a drift of snow
A loose eyelash lies on a pock-marked cheek
A cheetah streaks across a dusty plain
A young deer lies dead at the side of a road
A sugar maple tree stands clothed in leaves of scarlet red
A cat sits absolutely still and unblinking
A line of penguins waddles across ice and snow
Mirrored sunglasses that reflect a clear blue sky
An obelisk made of bands of silver and red stone
A small book with a plain, unmarked bright red cover
Mandarin orange slices dripping with juices
A spider's egg sack
A collage of paragraphs torn from newspaper articles
A single black stone hanging from an elegant gold necklace

Category 2: Phrases
Use these phrases much like the images. Use them wholesale. Use them metaphorically. Free-associate off of them to find something totally different.

A hallucinatory adventure
Emergency medicine
Planetary defense system
On the planet's surface
It was just that simple
The trash collector came around
Feel the difference
The electric sky
The dragons rise over the city
There was no hurry
Big news in a small town
Backing up your work
Just thought I'd pass this along
Tell me everything
And, lo! Here I am!
What am I doing here?
Leave me alone!
You're supposed to be dead
You've been here before
It was just a dream
Please observe
Paperwork-Related Phrases
Business reply mail
Return to sender
Update your records regularly
Keep this portion for your records
Please detach this stub
Please return this form
We look forward to serving you again
Please check this information carefully
All new technology

Category 3: Concepts

Here are some random situational concepts that you might apply to whatever scene, story, plot, etc. you're working on right now.

A moment of revelation
A moment of despair
Rebellion and revolution
Keeper, guardian
Official or unofficial?
Rite and ritual
Sight and insight
Intent and motive
Culture shock
Position & Movement
A crossroads
A dead-end
Bursting out into the light
A dense jungle
It's a long way home
Things are out of place
Buried beneath the waves
It's all about the journey
Hide a dangerous secret
Hide something in plain sight
Read a diary
Open a cabinet
Treasure map
Pangs of conscience
Carry a grudge

Category 4: Techniques

Comments in italics after the suggestions give further suggestions for how to apply the suggestions. Only copy these further comments onto your index cards if you think it might be useful for you. Keep in mind that these are intended as techniques for finding inspiration, not as "instructions" for how to work on your project. Try a technique and see if it gives you new ideas, rather than trying it and then force-fitting the results into your actual piece of writing.

Remember your sense of smell. What does the air smell like in the scene you're working on now? What scents linger in the protagonist's home? What does the breeze smell like?
Remember your sense of taste. Even the air has a taste to it. Some emotions have flavors associated with them.
Remember the way things feel. Texture, sensations. Hairs standing on end.
Have you provided an up-front physical description for each character? If not, go back and do it now. You generally need to describe your characters before the reader will have formed her own, disparate images. Sometimes such a description is a full physical description; often it's just a characteristic detail or two.
Pick a page at random and look at your details. Are they solid, physical details, or are you stuck in the abstract? Without solid physical details, your readers won't be able to see what you're describing.
Go back and read your first paragraph separately from the rest of what you have written. Is it interesting? Does it immediately grab the reader and draw her in? Does it intrigue her? Does it make her want to read more?
Read all of your dialogue aloud, preferably with the help of other people reading the other characters' parts. Does it sound natural, or does it sound forced, silly, or ridiculous?
Location & Setting
Write a single scene of your story set in a different time period.
Write a single scene of your story set in a different location. This could be a different city, a different world, or whatever.
Write a single scene of your story as a different genre. If it's a science fiction story, write it as horror. If it's a fantasy story, write it as a mystery. And so on.
Write a single scene of your story as though it took place in another author's universe. Pay attention to the little details; use the other author's characters and make them speak as they would if the other author were doing the writing. Force yourself to adhere to that world's continuity. This is a great exercise in contract writing. Just remember that this is an exercise--you can't write about another author's characters and then sell the result.
Write a list of the physical locations in your story. What does each one contribute to the story? What makes each one useful and important? Can any of them be improved upon?
Before you write about any given physical location, write down two abstract concepts that characterize that location. For each concept, write down three concrete details about the location that back up that concept.
Plot & Structure
Invert your ending. Have your hero lose. Have your villain win. Turn your tragedy into a happy ending, or your happy ending into a tragedy.
Begin at the end of your story. End at the beginning.
Write up your plot outline as though it were a conversation between two of your characters. This is a good way to ferret out bits of plot that seem okay on paper, but are revealed as silly or ridiculous when you stop to talk about them.
If you've been writing without an outline so far, then reverse-engineer an outline of what you've written so far. Does it make sense?
Try chopping off your first section of material (page, chapter, whatever). Does it make any real difference to your story? Many writers find that their story "starts" several pages (or even chapters!) into their writing. The first pages end up being a warm-up, a way of getting into the writing.


Note that when I use the words "hero" and "villain" in here, I'm not trying to say that you need a black-and-white hero and villain in your story; it's just a shorthand. Everything is a matter of degrees.
Write out a dream that your protagonist might have had last night.
Write a flash-back from the villain's point of view to something that happened one year earlier. This can be a great way to ferret out "cardboard villains." If you can't think of what on earth your villain would have been doing a year ago, it's time to put more thought into him.
Look at your current scene from a different character's perspective. Does this tell you anything new about your story? How can you make use of that?
List out the things, concrete or abstract, that each of your characters needs. If this list is short, you're probably missing some of your necessary tension and conflict.
List your characters, and write next to each what purposes he or she serves in the story.
Pick an underdeveloped character and write a page or two of notes on that person. Try answering a handful of questions from our character questionnaire.
List your characters, and write next to each what makes him or her unique or interesting. Why should the reader care about them?
Write a one-sentence description of each of your characters. Note which ones sound like popular stereotypes and cliches. Find ways to change or subvert that.
Make your hero into your villain and your villain into your hero. Keep basic life history, quirks, and as much personality as possible the same.
Figure out what point of view it would take to make your hero look like the villain, and vice versa.

Roleplaying Game (RPG)-Specific Cards

These cards are provided for people who are writing their own roleplaying material.
Have you thought about how each of your player characters (PCs) will be pulled into your plot? Even if the answer is as simple as, "character A will be pulled in because character B will be intrigued by the plot," you need to think about each PC.
Pick out the points in the plot at which PCs could make different choices than the one you expect or hope for, and explore some of those options. Just in case.
Does your plot take into account the particular needs of party play, or does it try to force the party into the traditional literary configuration of a singular protagonist plus helpers?
Make a list of the player characters in your game. Next to each, list the reasons why each character should feel personally involved in the game world. If any of the PCs have nothing next to them, find something to pull them in. If characters are personally involved, then players feel personally involved too. This list will change over time, so remember to revisit it now and then.

Inspirational Quote

"The beginning is the most important part of the work" (Plato )

Saturday, April 7, 2007

3 Questions

  • If you walked out of your house and saw a bird with a broken wing huddled in some nearby bushes, what would you do?
  • If you could increase your IQ by 40 points by having an ugly scar stretching from your mouth to your eye, would you do so?
  • If there was a fire at your house and after saving your loved ones and pets you had enough time to save one item from the house, which one would you grab and why?