After I had my first short story published, I waited several years to find new inspiration. Only much later did I discover that you don't wait for inspiration to come to you; you go out and get it.
So how do you get inspiration for creative writing? If I say that inspiration is everywhere around you, it's true. But it's not very helpful. In short, you can find inspiration in music, dreams, people talking, news, family members, writing prompts, and by getting an idea for a character.
But how? I spend years without writing, because after that first idea, I didn't know what else to write about. And yet, I was surrounded by music; I dreamed most nights; I read the news, and I had both family and friends. How do you drag inspiration out of thin air?
Let's take the options, one at a time.
How to Use Music as Inspiration for Fiction Plots
A lot of music is written to arouse emotions in the listener. That's perfect. As a fiction writer, you certainly also want to arouse emotions in your readers.
Many lyrics tell a story, and you can let that story inspire your book. Tweak and twist what you hear so that you don't create a completely identical story that people will recognize from the song.
To take an example, listen to the song Yesterday by The Beatles. It's far from my favorite song, but most people know it.
Did you listen? Or perhaps you found the lyrics online and read them? That's fine, too.
In short, the song is about a man, who said something wrong, and his girlfriend left him. Now he wishes he could go back in time (to yesterday) and do things differently.
The inspiration you get from the song will depend on your genre.
There's stuff in here for time traveling (and perhaps making things worse, then having to travel back even further), romance (get his ex back), living the same day over again many times (Groundhog Day), and much more.
You don't even have to have lyrics. The music — the tone, the vibration — in itself can inspire you. So you can help your imagination on its way by playing the right kind of music while you either sit down or walk around.
Did You Ever Have a Dream that Moved You? Write About It
Several fiction books started as a dream.
The Danish author Peter Høeg dreamed about the plot that became his world-famous book Miss Smilla's Feeling for Snow.
Stephen King came up with Dreamcatcher. Edgar Allan Poe used many of his nightmares in his fiction.
And it is said that Paul McCartney came up with the melody for Yesterday in a dream. (The temporary lyrics for the melody had nothing to do with the lyrics we know today. The first line was, “Scrambled eggs, oh, my baby, how I love your legs…”)
Learn to Remember Your Dreams
My husband is great at remembering his dreams. He can wake up and tell me about what he dreamed with great details.
The usual advice to learn how to remember dreams is to have a notebook and a pen next to your bed. He's never done that.
Instead, he's always been good at observing people and events.
To get good at remembering your dreams, start when you're awake. Be present in the moment.
If you take a walk, don't have your phone glued to your chin. Instead, focus on what's going on around you. What colors do you see? What people are near you? What are they doing?
When you get home and meet your spouse, notice the clothes they wear. Listen to what they have to say. Listen. Don't think of the next reply you want to make.
Simply focus on being present in the presence.
The more you practice this, the better you'll get at remembering your dreams, because you'll take your newfound skill of observation with you into the dream world.
Can all dreams become books?
No. But some will give you the first seed of inspiration. And from there you can work out your characters and your plot.
So listen carefully to what your dream characters have to say.
Eavesdropping Isn't Nice (Cough), but It's Great for Coming Up with Ideas for Stories
“… I've never seen her so angry before.”
“If Frank hadn't been around, I don't know what…”
When you take a walk or sit down in the park, you will hear a lot of snippets of conversations. Some of these can inspire you to come up with your own stories, if you ask yourself further questions, like:
Why was she angry? What had happened to her? How did she show her anger?
And then, depending on your genre, ask even more into the matter:
Romance: Did he cheat on her? With whom? What was the consequences?
Horror: How did her anger play out? Did she brutally kill him with a wood-shredder? Did he come back as a ghost to haunt her?
Even if you can't hear or understand the surrounding people, you can find inspiration in their body language. Are they agitated? Why? Make it up. Are they happy? Relaxed? What will happen next?
You don't have to have a notebook and pen with you, but go over good ideas in your mind many times. And as soon as you get home, write down your inspiration.
Use the News Without Ruining Your Mood
Most of the news in radio, television and newspapers are bad news. Luckily, you don't have to listen to or read the full story and risk a depression to find good ideas for your next story.
You just need to skim the headlines and pick the ones that stand out to you.
Then imagine the rest.
I skimmed the news and saw, “Missing boy's parents charged after body found in shallow grave.”
What happened? Did the boy's parents kill him? Were they themselves victims? Did somebody force them to kill their son? Aliens? Or did they travel into the future and learned that he would become a mass-murderer?
Here's another, more positive one: “Viral picture: Men invite elderly woman eating alone to sit with them.”
Why did they do that? What's their story? Who's the woman? What's her story? How does this event change her life? Does her daughter show up to thank them and fall in love with one of the men?
Your questions will depend on your genre, but allow your imagination to run wild.
You're not limited to using headlines, by the way. Feel free to watch the pictures and base your brainstorming on those.
Friends and Family Make Inspiration Flow Towards You
Your friends and family make great story fodder.
I got my first short story idea after a birthday party. I didn't get along with my sisters. The youngest of them is a great looker with long, blond hair, blue eyes, and long legs. I thought that she looked stunning but I wouldn't want to switch bodies with her and become her.
That became a published Sci-Fi short story.
But you can also model your characters after your friends and family. I would change them, if I were you. Don't use them exactly as they are. Mix two of them and create one character. Or split one friend into two characters.
As always, ask yourself questions. What if? How? Why? What next?
Observe and imagine. And then use it for your stories.
Hey! Where Did that Character Come From?
Sometimes, characters show up completely out of the blue. One day, she's there, talking in your head, doing things.
Welcome her to your world and start asking her questions. What is she doing? What's her story? Why is she who she is today? What if you put her down in another world?
What situations do you see her in? What's she doing? Is she funny or tragic?
Use your imagination. That character turned up because she has as a story to share. Listen to her story and then write it down.
Now that you know more about how to get inspiration for creative writing, other questions might pop up.
Let's take a couple.
What Is the Source of Inspiration?
At the beginning of this blog post, I told you how I spend years waiting for inspiration for my next short story.
The first came to me while driving home from the birthday. I hoped for something similar for the next one.
But nothing happened.
What is the source of inspiration? Does it come from a divine being? The universe? Or does it come from inside yourself? Is it an idea you find in your subconscious?
I know now, though, that if you don't sit and wait for inspiration, but actively seek it out, it comes to you more often.
The Greeks believed it came from muses.
Stephen King talks about the boys in the basement.
Whatever the source, help inspiration on its way by actively using the above ways to get ideas.
How Writers Get Inspired
When I was still waiting for my own inspiration, I followed a French writer who wrote several novels. I met him at a book signing and asked him, “How do you find inspiration for your books?”
He told me that inspiration was all around us. The idea for his latest book came to him while he was driving through France and observed a mountain.
Inspiration often comes from the simplest things.
Find it by sitting down and think. Or by taking a walk. By meditating. By scanning news headlines.
You can also use prompts, either in form of first sentences, “I knew this was going to be my last day on Earth…”
Or by combining two random nouns in the first paragraph of your draft. For example “dog” and “star”.
“My dog sat next to me on the ground when we saw the shooting start.”
Then just set a timer and write.
As you can see, there are plenty of ways you can get inspiration for your fiction. Make sure you don't commit the failure I did and waste a lot of years by waiting for inspiration. Go out and get it.