Some days ago, amid all this hubbub over Chick-Fil-A, I came across a short but sweet post written by blogger Gwynn Compton asking, “What helps you write?” I thought it would make for a brilliant distraction form my typical Tuesday talks–because, without any inspiration to write, there’s no amount of writing advice that’ll help your words shine.
So with a great letter of thanks to Gwynn, here’s what helps me write–a few items that may in turn help you to write, too.
Ironically, music was also first on the original list, but whereas Gwynn enjoys the instrumental, I use music to shape the mood of my story. For the past few NaNoWriMos, I have researched new music for my playlists weeks in advance to find the perfect atmosphere to write in. Going for something gothic and dark? Let’s try HIM and Skillet. Something fantastic? Enya, or perhaps some theme music from the Lord of the Rings or the Legend of Zelda. Science fiction? A good dose of Daft Punk or the Chemical Brothers will get me going.
I’ve also inherently linked certain brands of music to certain stories. Long before I realized the music I listen to influences the tone of what I’m writing, I went through a period of intense writing and intense obsession with the Cranberries. A number of their songs I’ve adopted as “theme songs” for certain characters–and in fact, some of their songs have been the direct inspiration for entire plots and character names. (Listen to “Desperate Andy,” if you will.)
Nothing gets my creative juices flowing faster than a good bit of engaging education. Whether it’s a documentary, films on YouTube, or reading the news, the goings-on in the world has always fascinated and repeatedly gets me thinking about new things. Sometimes the themes of what I learn will be incorporated into the story–one comedic piece I wrote during the twelfth grade was a total mind-purge of all my thoughts on quantum physics–and other times the inspiration will be more indirect. For example, during my sociology class, I made great leaps forward in outlining the various cultures in the mythology I’m working on. Now possessing some sense of cultural norms from an academic perspective, engineering a fictional culture became more logical.
One of the best examples I can give of how learning has influenced my writing is in a story I wrote this past semester called “The Unraveling.” It’s set in my mythological world and follows the life of a princess and later her son as a wind demon reawakens and begins killing children. The inspiration? The French Revolution. In fact, one of my classmates who read the piece and loved Marie Antoinette as a child instantly recognized the connection. Does it sway the plot directly? Maybe not (it’s debatable), but it certainly sets the entire tone of the piece and helps to bring the falling province into focus for the reader.
The best inspiration for a writer should always come in reading. After all, if you don’t salivate over a good book, why would you ever want to write one with all of your heart–flesh and blood included–smeared across a thousand pages of text? I’ve had stories inspired by Harry Potter, classical myth, Alice in Wonderland–again, my ideas may not be directly related, but they are a source of inspiration and motivation that keeps me writing and, if nothing else, helps me to start writing, which then allows me to hone in on the original ideas.
This is a bit of a mix between the last two: When I visually see a story come to life, different parts of the story are activated in my head, revealing facts about interaction and ideas that can’t easily be surmised by factual reasoning or creative reading alone. Superhero movies are fantastic for making me want to write amazing, action-packed thrillers, but more cerebral or personal films make me just as eager to plunge into a story that makes you smile and cry and want to laugh along with the characters. Television series rarely do this for me, but movies? It makes the exorbitant theater prices worth it.
Pacing…Pacing…Pacing…and Talking to Myself
This pretty much needs no exposition. Talking aloud to myself while pacing aimlessly helps me to think and arrange my thoughts and get to a point mentally where I can begin to write. I especially find this useful if I pace and talk to myself outside. However, my wish to not appear clinically insane usually makes this difficult in public places, which often crimps my creativity. Perhaps I should invest in a Bluetooth earpiece so people at least think I’m talking to someone else on the other line.
Yes. I can buy a cheap broken one on Ebay.
I think maybe I’ll do that.
Some time ago I had a short story series going in which I had asked certain friends to give me a name, a setting or plot point, and if they wanted, an object, and I’d write a story dedicated to them using their suggestions as a foundation. I haven’t done this in a long time, and I know there are still a number of great friends I need to request inspiration from, but some of my favorite stories have been inspired by my friends. There’s something unusually satisfying when you write for someone else, especially someone you love. It can’t easily be described. But if you’re ever lacking inspiration, give it a try. If nothing else, it’s a great writing exercise.
In fact, why don’t you tell me what to write? These three things can open an entire world of possibilities, and I can guarantee you even if a hundred people started with the same inspiration, the outcomes would never be the same.
Or you could just tell me what helps you write. That’d be cool, too.