Where Inspiration Comes From

thought bubble 2Almost three years ago, I had one of those wonderful, fantastical dreams that leaves you breathless.  The type that when you wake up, you try to trick yourself into falling asleep again so you can get back.  Of course, there’s never any going back, is there?

But then I realized that I had my mind.

I remember spending over two hours that day just sitting in my room and creating another world with these characters that I’d dreamed about.  I spent all my spare time that next week keeping up the story in my head, sending my characters on one adventure after another.

Then I started writing it all down.  Soon I opened a word document and started typing, and I turned that dream into a novel called The Sound of Color.  I gave it a plot, more characters, new setting, and a story arc.  I learned that I loved to write.  I got my work critiqued, I re-wrote the first third of the novel, I edited the whole thing over and over, I discovered the online writing community, and I started calling myself a writer.

Which leads to two strange sets of questions:

  1. What if I’d never had that original dream?  Never been inspired to write The Sound of Color?  Would I have started writing anyways?  Would I have still written that story?  Was it God’s plan for me to have that particular dream at that particular time to start me on this journey?
  2. Where does inspiration come from, anyways?

I can’t answer question #1, but I can attempt #2.  I want to share with you different ways I’ve been inspired, and then if you have any cool stories or tips you can leave them in the comments.


Five Things That Inspire Me:

1) Artwork

Soon after I started writing TSOC, I decided to add a picture of my flute to my sketchbook.  I ended up with this:

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Those of you who have beta-read TSOC will know that a magic Flute is central to the plot.  As I put the colors in that picture above, a scene hit me of my characters finding this magic Flute that made all these colors as it was played.  I turned around twice and it was a major story point.

Even as I plan the next novel I’d like to write, I’ve gone back to the drawing board (pun intended), and I’ve loved creating the setting of the Bookstore through drawings in my sketchbook.
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2) Music

You might remember this post from a while ago about music.  But I really want to focus on the one song I mentioned: Arwen’s Vigil by ThePianoGuys.  It was a chilling, enchanting song that I couldn’t help but imagine my two MCs dancing to.  It was a song that brought me back to the heart of their relationship each time I listened to it.  You might even go as far as to say it was the “theme song” for the rough draft of TSOC.

Music has always been central to my writing… it’s a constant source of inspiration, of encouragement.  I even have a writing playlist on Spotify.  (If you wanna listen, here it is, but you need a Spotify account.)

3) Reading.

This should be a no-brainer.  But to prove my point let me say that the novel I’m currently planning (and drawing pictures of) is largely inspired by two fantastic books: Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore (review here), and The Night Circus (review coming soon).  I like to think of good books as the fuel in the gas tank that lets my writing speed along the highway.  If I go too long without reading, I get stranded on the side of the road.

4) Keeping my eyes and mind open.

You might remember this post that talked about creating characters from real-life people.  Whether it’s an old man across the plane from me, or the sky last night that made me think of my new imaginary bookstore, I find bits of inspiration all around me every day.  A snippet of dialogue.  A picture on pinterest.  A little dreaming and drawing in physics class.  A sunset, a rainy day, a delicious cup of cocoa, a misbehaving horse.  Bits and pieces of new stories surround us every day, and as writers, it’s our job to collect them.

5) Writing.

There have been more times than I can count that I felt like my story was at a roadblock, yet I chose to sit down and write anyways – and in the end, I was hit with a totally new concept, a whole new idea or character or plot point.  (This was basically me throughout the entire month of November for NaNoWriMo.)journal

I’ve heard it said that as writers, we shouldn’t wait for inspiration to strike to start writing.  I agree – often times when I push through the ‘uninspired’ feeling, I find buried treasure underneath.  But one of the most exciting things about being a writer is that “aha!” feeling of inspiration.  The moment when a song, a book, a person, a piece of artwork – or even a dream – latches itself in my mind and turns itself into a part of a novel.  The feeling when I’m laying in bed at night and I have to turn on the light and write down an idea because it’s so breathtaking that I can’t let it go.

That’s genuine inspiration.

That’s what I, as a writer, live for.

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There and Back Again – With a Bright New Idea

Yesterday, I returned from an 11-day missions trip to Asia.

Our primary goal was to run a kids’ camp for a week, and show them Jesus’ love.  Which we did.  But God used us in so many other ways that I wasn’t expecting.

Needless to say, I didn’t get much writing done.

But I did a whole lot of dreaming.  With scenery like this, it was impossible for my mind to not wander into my story.

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Snow-capped mountains, herds of sheep, new smells, a foreign language — of course I was planning new scenes for TSOC.  But then… wait.  What if… what if… oh dear.  It seems I have a new story to write.

The idea actually began before my trip, at writer’s club a few weeks ago.  We were assigned to plan out a short story about something that had actually happened, and then embellish it with something fictional.  The girl next to me asked if the embellishment had to be realistic.  “Like, could there be dragons in it?” she asked innocently.  “Sure,” replied the lady in charge.

Well, in that case…

I decided to write a short story about a girl named Emily taking the SAT, something I myself had done recently.  The ticking clock, the quiet scratching of pencils, the glares from the proctor person when Emily’s eyes wandered into hers, the pressure in her mind while trying to figure out a problem.  And then… the smell of smoke.  The sound of a hurricane, and the window behind her breaking, shattering the silence into a million pieces.  Emily’s dragon coming to rescue her from the terror of the SAT.  It was brilliant.  Because, as Tolkien said:

It’s simply not a story worth telling if they’re aren’t any dragons.

So there we had it: normal girl, hiding a very abnormal life.  She trains dragons and other magical creatures, but tries to attend public high school.  I loved the concept.

What does this have to do with my trip to Asia?  Well… the mountains were stunning.  I couldn’t help but imagine Emily and her dragon spiraling through them, looping the clouds, throwing snowballs at each other from the top, or just hiding in them to block out the world.

But on the plane trip home, I added another character.  There was an elderly man sitting across the isle from me.  He was so unique, I instantly started thinking, he would be so much fun to describe.  And then, he would be such a fun character.  And then THIS happened:

Mr. Norrison.  He looked to be at least a hundred years old.  Pale, sullen skin clung to his face.  He had a very hooked nose that gave him the look of a vulture, although the sparkle in his eyes gave him the look of a kind vulture.

As always, he wore a perfect back suit, that if possible, looked even older than Mr. Norrison himself.  Yet like him, it seemed to still be in perfect working order.

“Good morning, Emily,” he said in his raspy voice, laying a small briefcase on the table.  Emily had never seen him without it, but she’d also never seen him pull the same thing out of it twice.

“What do you have for me today?” she asked, leaning closer.  She desperately needed a new animal to train, but she hoped that she could afford the purchase of whatever he was selling.

Not for the first time, he seemed to read her mind.  “You and I are both a wee bit short on money at the moment, darling.  So I have a proposition to make.”  He lowered his bony fingers to the case and unbuckled it with a click.  He smiled, and then opened the top.

Inside lay two enormous eggs, each a shimmering, translucent turquoise color, dappled yet smooth as glass.

“Where — ?” she began, then stopped.  “How much?”

His eyes shone.  “Free.”

She waited for him to continue.

“Train them both for me, my dear Emma, and when they are two years old, we will sell them both and split the profit.”

She bit her lip.  Two years of training with no money put forward.  But still, the profit from a well-trained two-year-old Blue Tongue would be enormous – word on the street was that there were less than a hundred left alive.

She locked eyes with Mr. Norrrison.  “Deal.”

They shook hands.  No paperwork, no magical contract, no drops of blood put into a vial – it wasn’t needed between them.  Emily was a well-respected trainer that had never let a client down.  And as for Mr. Norrison – he might not look it, but he was a more powerful wizard than any she’d ever met.  The unspoken trust between them was utterly complete.

Emily gently took the eggs out of the case that would have been too small for them without magic.  She laid them in a basket by the fireplace, wrapped in a warm red blanket.  She’d check their shell temperature later, but for now, they were fine.

“Thank you,” she said, as Mr. Norrison clicked his case shut.

“Until next time.”  He turned and left, the door shutting softly behind him.

Emily turned and looked at the two eggs, quiet and harmless – for now.  “What have I gotten myself into this time?” she asked to no one in particular.

It feels so good to have another project to work on when TSOC is finished.  I was worried for a while that I might always be a one-story author, that TSOC would forever drain my creative juices.  Hahaha, I should never have worried.  All it took was a night at writer’s club and a trip to Asia.

While Writing, I Listen To…

MUSIC!

It works like this: pull up my MS, pull up Itunes.  Hit “playlists –> Writing Music” and BINGO!  Got my inspiration to write – everything I need to keep my creative juices flowing.

My personal preference is purely instrumental music, at least while I write.  Most of it’s soundtracks from movies.  Recognize any of these?

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The far off, fantastic images that go with these soundtracks fills my subconscious with everything needed for dramatic writing and incredible, impossible settings.

What about music for a specific scene?  Sometimes I use a certain song to give me just what I need to plow through a scene.  My favorite time this happened was with the song Arwen’s Vigil by The Piano Guys.

It’s a dance scene.  Oh, what the heck.  I’ll give you the song and the scene.

And now the scene:

A murmur of excitement filled the air as the elves parted to make room for Irsong and Emma. The music began, quiet and mysterious notes of a lonely piano. The sound paused, and Irsong bowed as Emma curtsied.

A hush fell over the crowd. The piano grew louder, and smooth voices of deep stringed instruments joined in. The tempo increased, and Irsong and Emma swirled like phantoms in the night, chasing each other with a haunting beauty.

Star stood transfixed, her eyes tracing the footsteps of the two dancers.

The melody gained a ferocity, a desperation, which drove Emma and Irsong to run and leap about each other to keep time. Star’s heart pounded to the tempo, and images of swirling shadows filled her thoughts, and she was lost in the magic of the music for a time. Ever the song grew ever faster, until it reverberated across the deepest parts of Star’s being, filling her with fantastic terrors.

In an instant, the music slowed, and Emma and Irsong danced lightly to the last measures of the music. Star had a fleeting wish that she had been the one to dance such a song with Irsong.

Another song began, and soon the elvish king entered the dance floor with a lady that Star assumed to be his wife. Then Rella and a male elf, and other couples joined Irsong and Emma in the dance.

More and more of the elves joined in, pairing off and swirling in the light of the fountains.

And there you have it: one of my favorite scenes in my entire MS.  And one of my favorite songs.

coffitivity

Now to shift topics: sometimes I don’t listen to music.  If there’s a seen that just needs my sole attention, a part where my music distracts me… well, then I tend to use Coffitivity.  It’s a website that provides a “white” background noise, simulating the murmurs of a cafe, or the flipping pages and whispers of a library.  Just enough noises to keep your creativity flowing, but not too much to distract you.

And it’s free.

What keeps your brain working while you write?  Do you have some favorite writing music?  Or do you use something else?  And let me know if you enjoyed my dancing scene!

Thoughts While Editing — aka, DID I REALLY WRITE THAT?

Woah.  Did I really write that?

The most common thing I think while reading through my story.  And it can go one of two ways.

Option #1: Woah, Did I really write that?  That’s terrible!  I must kill it!

Or, Option #2:  WOAH!  Did I really write that?  That’s incredible!  I had no idea I was that good!

There is very little in between.

My “editing” process has begun with a general read-through of my MS, and I’m taking notes on it as I go, highlighting things that need work, adding notes such as KILL THIS! or Deepen POV or What? She would never do that.  I’m nearly done, and my MS has gained a lot of color and a lot of notes flying everywhere.  And I’ve done a lot of thinking the two thoughts above.

You see, when I started out, I really. Could. Not. Write.

And as I wrote more (and had it critted) I got better!  And now I can see how awful my MS is in a lot of places, especially at the beginning of the story.  The first six chapters or so were brutal to read.  And then in about chapter 7, I thought for the first time, woah.  Did I actually write that?  ‘Cause that’s not half bad.  Actually, that’s pretty good.  And then — AND THEN!!!!  About two chapters later, I nearly made myself cry.  (In a good way!  A character died and I wrote it really well.)  And it was amazing.  My whole brain went this is why I’m a writer!  (Not because I enjoy crying… but I love the feeling when you’ve written something well enough that it merits that reaction from anyone — even myself!)

The scenes like that give me the courage and perseverance to slog through the scenes where I think Option #1… and hopefully after a few re-writes, I can think option #2 for every scene in my book.