Let’s talk about inspiration.
It’s the key to any good story out there. It’s what gets those creative juices flowing and helps keep the pen moving - or the keys clacking in this day and age. It’s the backbone to any writing and so knowing how to gather inspiration without stealing ideas is a valuable skill. It’s also one of the first points in my “5 Key Points for Brainstorming”.
There are many, many sources of inspiration in the world and I glossed over it in my last post, but I want to go into more detail about my favorite sources of inspiration. First, though, Emily Lucas has a wonderful read in their ‘Top 10 Sources of Inspiration for Creative Writing’ that I highly recommend checking out. Some of their sources may overlap with mine but i wanted to go in depth into my own processes.
Whether it be reading, watching tv shows or movies, or watching online content, any source of media can keep your creative cogs turning and keep you thinking about different ideas. If you find a character or concept that you love in content, you can always make a note of it, too. For me personally, music is the form of media that inspires me the most because of the raw emotion that goes into music.
Real Life Experiences
Even if you’re writing a fantasy story, you can take from first and second-hand experiences that you’ve had in real life. Maybe you have memories of your first crush that you want to amplify through a story of sweet, youthful romance? Maybe you have a bad experience with an ex that you want to vent about through the lens of another character? You can do all of that from your own experiences and you don’t have to worry about plagiarism if you’re weaving a story around memories.
Nature & Concepts
There is a lot of beauty in the natural world and it can be used as inspiration, especially when it comes to the aesthetics of the world and characters you’re trying to build. As cheesy as it sounds, when I’m struggling to bring a character or a setting to life, I find it fun to make mood boards or image maps for them so that I can better visualize them.
Change Your Environment
Not in the story itself of course, but in real life. If I can feel my brain struggling to put words on the page, sometimes it helps for me to change the location that I’m writing in, even if it’s just leaving my desk to go sit on the sofa instead. If you have the ability to, however, it’s extremely inspiring to go to your favorite location - be it a park, a cafe, or even a friend’s house if they are okay with it - and just see how much writing you can get done. Sometimes writer’s block can seem like an undefeatable but sometimes a change of scenery can swiftly take it down. Even if you can’t write somewhere else, just getting out for a few minutes - like a quick trip to the store - can clear your mind.
Inspiration vs Copying
In the previous post mentioned above, I linked a wonderful post by Pam Weber that I still recommend reading but I want to go a little more into detail on how I avoid copying confidently. Before I get started, I want to bring up one tip from the post ‘Inspiration vs Copying For Creatives’. When in doubt, just give credit! Do remember that this won’t save you from blatant plagiarism, though, good inspiration practices are key.
For me, what I like to do is just take a bit of something. If a character from popular media has certain characteristics that I like - i.e. if they are very driven but shy - I only take that trait and nothing else from them. If I like the idea of a relationship dynamic that I’ve seen - i.e. the popular boy with the shut-in boy - I will only take that dynamic and make it completely my own by changing character appearances, interests, and personality.
If I fall in love with a setting, I pick one or two things that I like the most - the big tree in the middle of the city, the cute cafe that’s located near the pier of a lake, etc - and I make sure not to take too much and to change what I do take from the material. Sometimes, I combine multiple aspects of different settings that I like because it takes a load off of the work that goes into making a setting.
I also love mixing in nature and real life experiences with what inspiration I’ve gathered from media and the works of others and then make it completely my own and that is my biggest tip when it comes to inspiration. Mixing and matching forms of inspiration together is how you can make something entirely your own while keeping the things that you love in mind.
Weaving Inspiration into Writing
Okay now that you’ve gathered your inspiration and you’ve made sure to put your own spin on it, it’s time to weave that into writing. If you’re the planning type, you may want to consider making a list of all of your inspirations and applying it to the areas of your story that you want. Decide which character inspirations you want to put on each character of your story and how you want to build your setting up. If you have a lot of different ideas, it’s okay for the first planning doc to be messy; you can always clean it up later.
For a deeper dive into this, I generally make headers in a word document that are something along the lines of “Plot & Story Arcs”, “Setting,” and “Character” and I just toss all of my ideas under their respective sections and go from there. Personally, I clean up as I go and work off of one doc for all of the planning to a series but as stated above, making a draft of planning and then a final planning doc might be an easier way to go. If you only plan to write one type of story you can also consider making or following a stricter, more formulaic outline for your planning, but the process for organizing inspiration would still be relatively the same.
If you’re not the planning type, I still want to recommend at least making a brief outline of some kind and just include the inspirations in that brief outline. With shorter stories, a few sentences of planning can be a game changer if you find yourself stuck or getting bored with your writing.