My friend B seems to be the inspiration for a lot of my blog posts lately.
Or is she my motivation?
Today B texted me, as she usually does, to let me know that she was finally making herself sit down and write (she knows it makes me happy to see someone suffering as much as I do). During our conversation, B informed me that she needed motivation, to which I replied, “Motivation or inspiration?”
Is there really a significant difference between the two?
When it comes to writing, it seems to me that inspiration is what gets you started, and motivation is what keeps you going. In my case, the inspiration for Bad Acid were my friends D and C, and select events in their lives. But my motivation was, at first, those two and a few others who encouraged me to keep writing, and later, after we drifted apart, my motivation became to finish the book, in the hopes that maybe one day they would see it on the shelves and remember me. Not everybody has motivation like that, because not everybody gets their inspiration from something so personal as I did. For some, their inspiration is a dream, a story prompt they saw online, or maybe even passing strangers on the street. B’s constant issue with writing original stories is that she gets a basic idea, but from there, she’s lacking. She doesn’t have the motivation to keep working on her stories, mainly because she lacks the inspiration she needs.
So for B, and any of you in the same position, here are five ways to get inspiration for your novel.
- You don’t always have to start from the beginning. Often times when we get an idea from something, it usually isn’t the start of the novel. it’s the conflict, or the grand finale – essentially, the big bang that makes you want to write the story in the first place. It’s this big bang that becomes your motivation to write the novel, but you don’t know how to lead up to that point. So don’t. Instead, try writing this scene first, and the words should begin to flow right to the end (not without struggle, or course – nothing comes easy in this line of work). Once you have a climax or ending written, creating the events leading up to that point becomes easier. Backtrack, thinking, “What does my character need to go through in order to get to this point?”
- Give your character backstory – in detail. This one has become a favorite of mine, in fact I think I may have mentioned it in “How to Procrastinate Without Really Procrastinating”. Sometimes, when you don’t know where to take your story, the problem might be your character. A major ingredient to any best seller is character development – but it’s hard to see how a character develops if you don’t know their past. Of course, their backstory will leak into your novel as it comes along, but to help you get started, try writing a short story about their life before the events of the novel. This doesn’t necessarily have to be a prequel; it can have nothing to do with the events of the book. For example, if one of your characters is in a relationship, you could write a story about how the two met, or their first date. I did this with Janie and Cayden in Bad Acid, and it turned out so well I wound up using it. Not only that, but I got my writing flow back and was able to work on where I was originally stuck.
- Look at newspaper headlines to create your conflict. Man escapes after police car chase became on foot race. Why was the man running? Was he in the wrong, or innocent? Did he get away on his own, or did a stranger help him escape? From this, you get your conflict – either major or minor – and you can easily plan the events both before and after, creating a basic storyline.
- Characterize a stranger. This is something writers often do, usually unbeknownst to others while they sit in coffee shops, sipping on their drinks, peering over the tops of their laptops or notepads. If your writer’s block is the result of not being able to create a character, this is a good one for you. Sit in a busy coffee shop or restaurant – busy enough so that there’s various people, but not so busy that you can’t concentrate. Now, listen to their conversations. Read their facial expressions. Analyze their clothing. Based on what you see and hear, try to imagine their personalities. Why do they look so sad? Is she wearing clothes that are dirty because she can’t afford any others, or does she just not care? What do you think their name is?
- Make a picture speak 50,000 words. It’s true, pictures really can speak a thousand words. But if you stare at it long enough, and delve deep enough, you can make a picture speak a whole novel. This is something to try when you want to write, but can’t even think of an idea to start off with. Look at a picture of absolutely anything; a painting, a photograph, a landscape, surrealism, etc. Start writing about what you see in the picture; create a story for it. Or maybe pretend to be the person behind the lens/canvas, and imagine why they created such an art piece.
Have you started to see the trend yet? You have to put your own mind into someone else’s. As writers, we must put our own personalities aside. We must take on the personas of our characters, our scenes, our settings, and our stories, and that is what will make our words jump off the page. We all get out inspiration from different things, or even, different inspiration from the same thing, and we all have our own drives that keep us going. If you lose that motivation, then find some new inspiration. If you lose your inspiration, remember your motivation.
Don’t use writer’s block as an excuse to give up. Use it as a reason to try harder.