Monday, May 9, 2011


Okay, so this was supposed to go up Sunday and for various reasons, didn’t. Oops. :P
Anyway, to get back on topic: inspiration. Or, in other words, that “So, where do you get your ideas from?” question. I think writers (artists as a whole?) get asked this a lot, and I don’t know about you, but I usually just sort of laugh and shrug and say, “I don’t know…places…”
Because honestly, I usually don’t really know, especially if you’re asking me about a specific story idea or plot thread. Off the top of my head, I’m liable to just say, “The ideas just...come to me,” at which point people start nodding politely and I start remembering why I signed up to be a writer and not a public speaker. (just kidding. I actually did sign up to be a public speaker. Debate team, model UN, spoken word, that’s me...and did I just give away my total nerdiness? Oh well, wasn’t going to stay hidden for long)
Getting back on topic a second time…
So, I’ve been paying more attention to how a story develops, and to where I get my ideas from, and to be honest, the answer isn’t that much more satisfying than before. Instead of “Oh, places,” it’s “Oh...everywhere.” I’ve got a MacBook, so I’ve got the “sticky notes” function, and every time something comes to me, I jot it down. I’d do this in a notebook, except I’m already attached to the hip to my laptop, so it usually isn’t necessary. 

These little snippets of “inspiration” can be anything from a plot idea: “Boy goes to magic school and learns he is destined to destroy the evil wizard who threatens his world”
To a character sketch: “Tough, hardened girl looks after her little sister, acting like a mother to her”
To a setting: “Atlantis with Native Americans” (look, I don’t know, okay? I’m trying to come up with examples here :P)
Or even just a piece of dialogue: “SPACE MOLES!”
Separately, none of these make a story, but I collect dozens and dozens of them (and, despite the examples given above, they’re neither complete ripoffs of other stories nor...completely insane), and eventually, either one will stand out enough for me to spin an entire story around it, or a few will fall together and combine to make something more whole.
So yes, that is more or less the way things go. Is it at all similar to your story-making method?
And just because I feel bad talking about my list and teasing you with ridiculous non-examples, I’m signing off with a real example. Here’s an old character sketch I jotted down. You can see how nebulous it is—and this is honestly one of the longer ones!
She is bird-boned and small faced, with a wide mouth and brown hair the exact same shade as her eyes. She likes to lose herself in great flowing dresses, cut at the knees and draped over her frame like gray sheets. The shapeless dresses and the open-mouthed laugh and the skip in her step make her a child. The way she goes still when she is greeted with yet another piece of bad news, the way her eyes dim and stare off at nothing at all, remind that she has lived longer than the great oaks that line the edges of the forest. And that she will go on living in this great citadel of a home long after the fall of the world.

Will she ever make it into a story? I dunno. But she could end up a main character, or a side character, or even just part of a legend that sets up the backstory of a book. I think I got this snippet from a fashion advertisement, to be honest. A snapshot of a woman in a great gray dress, who looked like a woman trying to be a girl and half-succeeding, and this image of a similar woman in a great stone citadel came to mind, and why she would be trying to be childlike, and how old she really was...


  1. Good post, and I loved the little snippet at the end. Very descriptive. I'd have to agree with you. I have a notebook dedicated to jotting down ideas as the come because I know I'd forget them if I didn't. I also have an "ideas" folder on my computer.

  2. Thanks! :) I gave up long ago on trying to just remember ideas...I always forget and then spend forever trying to piece them back together again.

  3. Great post, Kat--I'm with you, inspiration comes in little snippets, and eventually some of those snippets coalesce, or strengthen, or are just so persistent you have to make something of them! But in a lot of ways, just embracing the snippets, writing them down, letting them ferment, is a great practice for remembering potential future projects and a good exercise in writing in the here and now!

  4. Thanks, Rowenna :) I'm glad to see other writers work similarly.

  5. I have a moleskine that I write down all my ideas in. It makes me feel conected to all the oldtime writers!

  6. I love moleskines! Especially the little pocket-sized ones. I wish they made them with lined paper, though...

  7. Mmm fascinating. I've always liked learning where people's inspirations come from.
    Mine tend to come randomly too,especially when I'm practicing piano, driving or doing some sort of chore. I tend to wander off in daydream :D
    Jotting down ideas is great! I'm not very systemic when it comes to collecting ideas, so I jot them down in random places.

  8. I try very hard to keep my mind from wandering while I'm driving, lol. I don't always succeed (shhhh) ;P


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