Friday, February 15, 2013

The Process of Inspiration

I like to keep a few beers in the fridge, otherwise it’s like I don’t want to go home sometimes. Life can be a bit depressing if you’re stuck in a one-bedroom apartment without even a TV or a radio. Because I work on the internet, it tends not to be relaxing entertainment—it’s like I’m always working, or at least looking for inspiration, and sometimes coming up dry.

I had a stint like that recently. A couple of days went by, and I had no ideas for stories. Then I stopped in at my brother’s place, had a coffee and watched TV for a while. I don’t know what it is about TV, but something struck me and I had an idea. It was one of those old war documentaries.

It’s like I couldn’t wait to go home and begin writing it. On the way, I stopped off at the park because I wanted a list of names and the plaque on an old memorial was just what I needed. So I stopped in and took a photo of one.

A couple of writing sessions later, I had a two thousand word short story, all ready to submit to the pro markets. It started off with the title, ‘Cenotaph,’ but now I’m calling it ‘In Memoriam,’ and it’s science fiction set a couple of centuries in the future.

I’ll submit that around and see how it goes. If all else fails, it can be published on this blog, and ultimately, the more strong stories I have, the more strong collections I can produce and self-publish.

New material is a good thing. If I had one good idea a day, I would be happy as far as writing short stories is concerned.


I was grumpy this morning, and that rarely results in any good ideas. And I had nothing. Basically, I get in the car and then get a coffee. I go for a drive in the country. I saw a few birds, and a few side-roads, and a few farms and cars going along…no big thing. It’s February in southern Ontario.

Going to see my brother, he was asleep on the couch, so I put the Weather Network on the TV and just sat there for a while. I was thinking about that one damned bird I saw. They all look the same, it’s kind of sparrow-like. There are flocks of birds. They seem to be composed of more than one species. In summer, males are in breeding plumage. In winter, they’re very drab and it’s hard to identify the species at all.

Why not use this in a science-fiction story? The aliens don’t have to be avians—certain characteristics, social characteristics, behaviour in the breeding season, the fact that they have a breeding season at all, this is good groundwork for alien-building and consequent world-building.

And all of a sudden, I remembered some dumb little four-word title I wrote in a document mysteriously called ‘Titles.’

‘The Towel of Babar.’ Now, if someone told me to write a story about a towel, owned by a guy named Babar, and make it work as science-fiction, I probably wouldn’t be able to do it. Yet some germ of the original concept convinced me to write it down, and I still vaguely remembered the idea. It was a parody of the Shroud of Turin. Ah, but now I could see things, little bits and pieces from a certain point of view—the POV of a specific but as yet un-named character.

You guessed it—I butted out my smoke, put my coffee cup in the sink, left my brother snoozing on the couch, and headed home to begin writing it up.

For me, the process of inspiration is sort of osmotic—I have to suck in something from the external world, whether from books or TV or the radio, or even just getting out of the house for a while.

To live completely without influences would be the death of any writer. I have a pretty good imagination, but it requires feeding from time to time. Not so much from other people’s books, which might lead to a tendency for imitation, which is not necessarily a bad thing in moderation. I am far more likely to get inspired and excited about an idea I had myself, and which only I could properly write.

I imitate other writers by writing too—let’s put it that way.

I would submit that any idea I once had remains in my subconscious. The challenge lies in digging it out, which is not a logical process by any means. It is intuitive and yes, creative. I think that while the apartment is often pretty quiet and mostly without distraction, that fact sometimes becomes a barrier to new ideas. The imagination needs to be stimulated with new impressions and the new thoughts they engender.

The process of inspiration is continually ongoing, and it requires new stimuli more than anything else.

Here's another perspective on inspiration.

Photo: 'Inspiration,' William Adolphe Bouguereau, (Wiki, Public Domain.)

1 comment:

  1. You are so right, Louis. Stimulating thought does not generally happen at the computer. It's only where ideas are recorded. Writers are motivated by outside influences.


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