How to get inspiration to write? That’s a good question. Actually, in Neil Gaiman’s Masterclass, he tells us that this is the one million dollar question. It’s the one that writers answer sarcastically with things like “I buy it in Walmart”.
This is actually the question that matters the most because it is from the inspiration that stories are born. Inspiration is the mother of books and art.
How to get inspiration to write? You must know, however, that having inspirations and ideas is one thing, another thing different is using it to write a full book.
If you are super creative like me, and ideas pop in your head all the time, this is not the article for you. The article you want is: Why Can’t I Finish Writing a Book?
Some people have a thousand ideas and inspiration every day, every moment of the day. However, they don’t know if these ideas are good enough to become a full-length book. A book is VERY big. You’ll only be able to finish it if you write about the right topics.
What do you mean? Can’t I write about anything?
Yes, you can. However, it has to be about the topic that you love most in your entire life. I explain it better in this article here. It has to be a topic that you are able to talk about all day long without ever getting tired of it.
How do you find this theme? The article also explains about it but you can use the techniques that I’m going to show you here in this article as well to find out.
So, how to get inspiration to write? Where do writers get ideas and inspiration?
Writers are observers of the world.
They pay attention to things around them.
At the same time that they are living in the stories in their heads, they are fully in the present. Or, at least, they should be. Writers watch the way people talk, pay attention to their quirks. They watch the way leaves move, the sounds around them, and how certain smells make them feel. When they are feeling sad, they try to understand it so they can put this emotion in the paper.
So, how can you start doing that as well? How to get inspiration to write?
I’m going to teach a method of getting inspiration from ANYWHERE.
Ready? You have to follow the next steps to learn how to get inspiration to write:
1- Carry a notebook with you. Always. Or use the notes on your phone.
Writers are addicted to notebooks, right? We always carry with us a way to write small notes about things we noticed around us. Smells, sounds, feelings. Make it become a habit.
2- Become an observer
You are going to start to live in the present.
You most likely don’t.
We live in our heads most of the time. When we are driving, we are thinking about work ahead, about the shopping list, or how the weekend will be. When we are at work, our minds wander off to random thoughts.
You are going to interrupt that. Try to see and hear what is around you all the time, even in my familiar spaces, like your bedroom. Catch the routine details. The way you spin the spun in a coffee mug, the sounds it makes. The way you feel when you get a bad grade or a bad report at work.
Observe people. Even familiar people. Your boss, if he has a mustache, what his eyes are like, does he have a grand-daughter he really loves? What does he like to do? Go fishing? Hunting? Or maybe crochet.
You are going to realize that people are really complex. And that’s how you write a good character. This is my personal method of creating complex characters: you base them on real people. You see, your mom is complex. She might love baking, however, she has a childhood trauma from her parents, she loves dogs, she is very frustrated about her hay fever, and she hates doing her hair but she does even so because of the way she was brought up. She believes that she must be well-behaved, at the same time she is fierce, furious, and truly the boss of your home.
When you are not a writer, she is just another person. When you are a writer, you start paying attention to every detail.
Watch how your dog behaves. The way his chest moves when he sleeps. If he has nightmares or not.
Watch the clock ticking on the wall. The sound it makes. How this makes you feel.
Think about your crappy job that you wish to end. How the frustration feels. How you are bittersweet about adult life. The difficulties you go through. This will help you write conflict. You’ve been there, you’ve tasted that.
You might not know how it is to get stabbed but you most likely have been cut with a kitchen’s knife while cooking. Get that feeling. Write it down.
3- Amplify your experiences
After you gathered some data about the things around you, you are going to pretend it is inflating, inflating, growing, growing.
You are going to dramatize it. As much as possible.
For example, you got bored in traffic today. This could have gone unnoticed, however, you are a writer, so you noted it down how it made you feel. You wrote: boring traffic.
Now you are going to amplify that for a hundred. Think that you’ve been stuck there in traffic for two days instead of just twenty minutes. Think about what would happen if nobody moved, and you were stuck there. How would you call your family? Would you get out of the car and abandon it there? Would you call for help?
4- What if
After you’ve amplified your feelings about a normal situation, you are going to start asking yourself questions related to the problem. What if an ambulance needed to pass but it was impossible to move? What if your cellphone ran out of battery? What if you got hungry but couldn’t leave your car there? What if your wife called you because your baby got sick but you are still trapped there?
Let the “what if” grow as well in a world of possibilities.
5- Mix things up
Now you are going to get two different small situations and mix it up. You are a writer, so you observed your coffee machine at work today. The noise it makes, the coffee smells, the office’s ambiance noise, the lightning. If you’ve paid attention to these details, your scene will feel real and relatable. However, you do want to write fantasy, or even better, horror.
So, you remember the last time you were in a zoo? The way you imagined what would happen if the lion got out of the cage? Well, let me tell you, you now work besides the zoo and that happened! Everybody starts screaming. You know how screams sound, then describe that. The lion is coming. How is its smell? He is as big as what?
Now put the “what if” and dramatize your feelings. You remember how it felt to be scared, so you are now going to write this feeling a thousand times amplified.
What is going to happen now?
This is the most important question for a writer. And you are being able to create that because you know how those things felt in real life, you are just mixing them up.
Neil Gaiman’s Tips:
1- Look at very familiar things in a different way
Here he tells us about how he started questioning White Snow’s story. It was so familiar to him, yet, when he started questioning it, he realized that it is a very strange story. And that he could break it and put his own twist to it.
Try to do it with things that are very familiar to you.
For me, it’s Harry Potter. I’ve read it ten times. But then I started questioning: well, isn’t it weird that a giant knocked on Harry’s door telling him that he must go to a magical school, and in the next day he was actually going with the total strange? How would someone in real life react to that?
Try to do that with stories that you know as well as your own home. Question it. How would this happen in a different way?
2- Compost Heap
He also says that you get inspiration from all different media you’ve been in contact through your life. Music, theatre, movies, everything. It all becomes a mix in your brain that will serve to fertilize your imagination and your story.
I talk even more about the Compost Heap here in this article.
Summarizing: How do writers get inspiration and ideas? How to get inspiration to write?
1. They always note everything on a notebook or on their cellphones;
2. They are observers, they live in the present, paying attention to every detail around them, even things that are absolutely normal. They listen to a toothbrush sound, they smell the cake shop down the street, they see how the Uber drives talks, they notice how receiving a new gift made them feel. And they note it down because they will write about it, and then they will get a detailed, well-constructed scene.
3. They amplify their experiences. They know how it feels to look down from a high building floor and feel that fear of falling. Now, they get this feeling and:
4. What if. They ask themselves what if they actually jumped from the high building? They already know how it feels, they have amplified the fear of falling, and now they are asking possibilities about the regular scene.
5. Mix things up. They mix things up. They get a normal day to day activity and they mix it with something special. For example, what if they were walking through the shopping mall and they realized it has closed, and now they have to spend the night away? They have been to the mall before, and they have slept out before as well, so now they are mixing things up, amplifying the feelings, describing the normal scenes as they experimented it.
Neil Gaiman’s take:
- Look at very familiar things in a different way. Ask you if that is not strange. What if things were different in that story?
- Let your Compost Heap, all the influences you have, mix and grow, so they will fertilize your brain!