Yes, I know that 90+90 > 100, but sometimes we have to work hard to get lucky, and that means there’s a lot of overlap. Now, when I say “luck,” I don’t mean the aligning of stars or random good fortune or even karma. I might mean God has blessed you with an idea, but mostly I think “luck” just means “things happening I can’t explain and don’t understand where they came from.”
My least favorite interview question is “Where does your inspiration come from?” (or the equivalent). I skip that question if I can. Do I know why ideas pop into my head? Most of the time, no. I know where the arms-into-swords idea came from, and that was from playing a game with my siblings where our arms (and/or legs) were swords. If you salute, you chop off your head. I know where the overall plot came from, it’s from The Lion King (I do love retellings). Other than that? The ideas come from a lot of work. A lot of writing. A lot of typing up scenes that get deleted. A lot of sketching maps and escape routes. A lot of talking out the character problems with roommates or siblings. A lot of showers filled with me trying out dialogue in my head. A lot of nights trying to fall asleep while considering how to get characters from point A to point C without hitting B.
And, somewhere in all this work, I get a plethora of ideas. After a lot more work, I’ve sorted which ones work in the story and which ones don’t.
Inspiration is not something you can just wait to hit you.
David Farland says you have to set up times to write, that you have to take responsibility for your writing. He tried only writing when he was in the mood, but it didn’t satisfy him.
KM Weiland writes about making a creative lifestyle so you’re not hit with writer’s block. She says, “Inspiration isn’t so much a feeling as an act of will.” Make habits that nurture creativity. This means creativity doesn’t have to happen once in a blue moon, and you can be actively looking for inspiration.
Rachel Aaron writes every day. It’s like practicing an instrument, she says, except it’s more fun. She writes, “When I write every day, I build up momentum, like running down hill . . . .” There’s no momentum if you only take a few steps a month. She also has great advice about how to write more every day.
The Writing Excuses authors talk about where they get their ideas from. They start by doing research, reading a book, or watching a movie, and then they ask “what if?” They try to match the tone/theme and maybe add some explosions, but they get the ideas from somewhere, not just their own brains. Basically, “Good writers borrow, and great writers steal” (paraphrased from Sorkin and Eliot). This does not condone plagiarism, it says, “take that idea and run with it in your own way.” It’s like saying every novel is a retelling.
Drive the interstate at 1 am.
Or maybe that only works for me. Two weeks ago, I visited a friend who lived an hour away. We talked until after midnight. As I drove home, I had to turn off the audiobook because I was suddenly hit by ideas for my third book. Now, I say suddenly, but these ideas had to do with a set of the middle three chapters I’d been rewriting and editing all week. So, my subconscious brain was working on the problem (how do I get these people to all agree? What lies does he tell? etc.).
The solution? I decided to have my MC tell the truth, but he makes everyone think he’s lying. Ha! I drove for an hour working out dialogue and reactions and other details. Where does this lead? What are they thinking? I just talked them to myself as I drove I-25 at 1 in the morning.
So, go find inspiration. Work for it, and make it a daily habit.