No Inspiration is too small
by Morgan Wilson
If you were to go through the Notes app on my phone, you’d see a section called “Quotes and Scribblings.” I’ve had it since 2014. It has poems, character names, and even things I’ve written about people that I’ve seen on public transportation.
This all started because I either read or heard a piece of advice for aspiring writers: have a pen and notebook with you at all times. You never know when inspiration will strike. Sometimes carrying a full notebook is impractical, so I end up using a phone most often. Another great reason for using a phone is that the chance of losing my notes is very slim. I even take pictures of quotes or chunks of dialogue in books that I like or think I might use for inspiration later.
Stephenie Meyer was lucky enough to have the inspiration for Twilight come to her in a dream. The rest of us usually aren’t so lucky or so lucrative, so we have to work at our inspiration. I sometimes draw inspiration from real-life people and events that have happened to me.
Usually, I don’t think an event is going to be a source of inspiration at the time. It’s normally when I’m looking back at my notes and photos that I realize that.
However, the opposite is true for when I’m people watching. People watching feels like an inspiration gold mine even as it is happening. As a group, writers tend to be observant. People watching can be helpful for writers because observing how people interact is pivotal to writing good characters. These observations help when you want to write realistic dialogue, situations, and scenes.
I also draw inspiration from people I’ve seen on social media. Many an Instagram model provides the physical inspiration for characters. Pinterest is great for keeping pictures and “character boards” organized, which can also help cultivate the final look of characters. I have loosely drawn inspiration from characters in books, TV, and movies as well because I think someone’s job is cool or I like some elements of their backstory.
In other words, ignore those who claim that “real inspiration” can only be drawn from the classics, or who say something equally “smart,” or who claim that you must write only what you know and the only thing you know are your own life experiences. While their advice is all well and good, don’t discredit your character because he’s more like the love interest in the latest YA novel than Mr. Darcy.
In addition, sometimes your personal experiences are too much to tackle without it hurting too much. Use your own life in your writing only if you want to, only if it serves both you and the writing. It’s YOUR writing, after all.
This isn’t permission to plagiarize, of course. Drawing inspiration from someone’s work isn’t the same as plagiarizing. For example, I liked that a male character had a motorcycle, so I gave a love interest a motorcycle. That’s all I did. Plagiarizing isn’t cool. That’s not what I’m talking about.
The most important thing is not to discredit anything that gives you inspiration for your writing. If Mary Shelley had ignored her dreams, we would never have Frankenstein. And what kind of world would THAT be?