How is a writer inspired to find something to write about? And how is a writer inspired to follow the many threads a single idea can generate? These are questions I have asked myself many times over my lifetime and continue to ask as I transition to an area of writing that is much more creative than the technical and objective writing that I wrote during the course of a long and satisfying career.
Google’s English dictionary, provided by Oxford Languages report inspiration as “the process of being mentally stimulated to do or feel something, especially to do something creative” and as “a sudden brilliant, creative, or timely idea.” I especially like the first part of that definition, the idea of being stimulated to engage in some action or to feel some emotion. Isn’t that the idea of writing, to move someone to act or feel?
I researched several well-known authors to learn what their experiences have been with finding ideas and inspiration and found they are relatively simple.
Mitch Albon, author of “Tuesdays with Morrie” reported on his website that he had been “exposed to people dying at various stages” of his life. He states, “my inspiration tends to come from people I know." Morrie, with his unique personality – and unique approach to dying – was the inspiration for “Tuesdays with Morrie...” He states “I have realized that loss, love and finding meaning in your life while you are here are all universal themes.”
Judy Blume who has authored many best sellers continues this theme. On her website she shares that she once feared the question about inspiration, but “I know that ideas come from everywhere – memories of my own life, incidents in my children’s lives, what I see, hear and read – and most of all, from my imagination.”
Donna Tartt, author of “The Goldfinch” is reported to have been inspired by a painting by a student of Rembrandt’s whose life was tragically ended at a young age in an accident.
I found this theme of finding inspiration in everyday occurrences in all of the writers I researched, and it reflected my own thoughts on this process. Writers are people watchers who imagine the lives of those they see walking down the street. Writers are listeners who listen to their 90-year-old neighbor and realize she is a Holocaust survivor, when the numbered tattoo on her arm becomes visible. Writers embrace ordinary events and embrace a willingness to look at our world and let our imaginations soar. Inspiration comes in myriad ways which we all seek and interpret differently. Every day occurrences become opportunities to open our senses and view people or events in different ways.
Writers also ask questions. Driving down the street and watching someone try to cross at a busy crosswalk... why is that person walking? Not driving? What moves the immigrant to leave their homeland and journey to a country foreign to them? Is it a hope for a better life, a job change, better climate? The writer understands it could be one or all of these things and begins to imagine their story.
What stories could the generation before us tell if we were willing to listen? So many stories are lost because by the time we think to ask the right questions, our parents and grandparents are no longer here to answer. Where would each of us be if we had taken different paths in life? Would we choose differently using hindsight as a guide?
Since the first petroglyph on a cave wall through our evolution to our present, the writer seeks to describe and understand all of these things and bring focus to our respective experiences inspiring the reader to act or feel.
I remain fascinated by the ability of the author open themselves to all of these drivers and create dynamic and interesting characters, storylines and worlds in which their characters live.
Each question has a story to share and opening up to the story can lead to our inspiration.
The Downers Grove Writers' Workshop (DGWW) has a history of successfully helping writers in all stages of their craft refine and hone their skills and their works. Those who have gotten the most out of the experience have found the following guidelines to be helpful.
Attend regularly. Most writers benefit just as much from listening to other writers’ presentations and the resulting discussions as they do from the discussions around their own works. Plus, if you want others to aid you, it’s a good idea to be there for them as well. Regular attendance also helps you stay current with what’s happening in other people’s work as it progresses over time.
Be prepared. There are several things you can do to optimize the time you have to present and the feedback you receive when you share your work:
Present like a pro. There are several things you can do to optimize the usefulness of the feedback you receive.
Give as good as you get. You’re here to get feedback from others, and they’re here to get feedback from you. These are some pointers to make it effective and valuable.
The Writing Pond Blog is home of The Downers Grove Writers Workshop. It is a compilation of members contributions. We love to write and writing about writing is one of the many ways in which we help to each other to become better and more consistent in the craft.