Sunday, January 9, 2011

The Origins of Inspiration

"Genius is 99 percent perspiration and 1 percent inspiration"
- Thomas Edison

Wow. Replace the paper and pen with a laptop and I must look exactly like the guy in the above picture to the outside world. Well, we also appear to be different races. And my hair is much cooler. But whatever... You get the idea.

The point is that, although writers (and other creative types, for that matter) are known for their individualism and outside-the-box perspective on the world in which we live, the irony of this is that we all share a number of common traits.

Chief among these is our constant hunger for inspiration. My own personal definition for "inspiration" is whatever motivates you to express yourself through creative means, often spurring the creation of new ideas based on something you've observed or experienced firsthand.

Now, if this was my blog (and last time I checked, it is... lol), I would like to share a little about where I personally draw my inspiration from (i.e. what makes me want to write and fuels my creative passion with an endless supply of ideas):

1) Personal experience and observation

As the old adage goes, creatives are tasked to "write what you know." If that's the case, then what else could you possibly know better than your own life? Writers, myself included, are known for having an introspective, reflective side, and this often leads to some of our best, most personal work. In fact, it's largely our best work for the very reason that it is our most personal.

In my case, I came up with a story idea years ago that is somewhat inspired by my own life, and that concept has continued to evolve and develop with each passing year. As it currently stands, it is filled to the brim with elements both big and small that are either based on something that I experienced or taken verbatim from conversations that I've had and the like.

You'll find that the older you get and the more you think, feel and experience in life, the more relatable and honest your work will become.

Because I truly believe that writers see the world differently from most people (which is what inspired the name for this very blog site), I feel it is in some way our duty to share what we've learned and witnessed with the people around us. Not only does it give us a better understanding of ourselves as writers and human beings, but it also may even help to inspire our readers to follow their own hearts and enrich their lives. After all, isn't that every writer's dream?

2) The arts

Have you ever walked out of a film or finished listening to an album and felt an overwhelming surge of creative juices flowing through every fiber of your being? I know I have, and oftentimes, the arts help me stay focused on nurturing my creative dreams, even in the face of social and professional obligations.

Whether it's the brilliant meta-universe of Stranger than Fiction, the narrative innovation of Memento or even the cinematic scope of something like The Lord of the Rings or Star Wars, films are a major source of inspiration for me. Taking in a story that moves me emotionally or intellectually always gives me a stronger will to muster up the self-discipline to follow my own unique voice.

Likewise, music has a similar effect. For example, I constructed an entire custom playlist of Stevie Wonder songs (he's my favorite singer, btw) to serve as a sort of soundtrack for the story I'm currently writing. Listening to each song and imagining how it would play into what's happening in the story helped me envision the overall story arc, to the point where simply listening to those songs made me eager to return to writing. I have even put a certain song on "repeat" because it put me into the mindset of a character, making the mood of the scene far more accessible.

Whether it's film or music, literature or finger paintings, the arts are a limitless source of inspiration. After all, there's no better way to keep the fires of ambition blazing than to see the finished product of people who saw their dreams through to glorious completion.

3) The "What If" game

Like most writers, I'm known for being a notorious overthinker. While there are many instances in which this can lead to increased inhibition and anxiety towards certain aspects of life, there is an upside.

I have found that simply looking around you can often yield a great number of story ideas and characters. Now, I know what you're thinking. That sounds an often lot like "Personal experience and observation," the first item on this list, right? Wrong.

Whereas drawing from personal experience is a way of documenting and then fictionalizing actual events, the "What If" game is one in which you fill in the blanks with a spontaneously created story.

For example, you might walk down the street and see an old man sitting on a bench, his ruffled hat pulled down and a morose expression on his face. Now, you have no clue who this guy is or what in the world he's doing on this bench. And that's where the "What If" comes into play.

What if this man just lost his job, causing his wife and children to abandon him and he's waiting for the bus to take him to another town, where he will take up a new position working as a school teacher, where he is able to make good use of his misfortune and help his students achieve the success that he himself never managed to achieve?

Granted, it's a bit cliched, but it's a story idea, nonetheless. And all that from just seeing some random dude on a bench.

What makes writers such powerful, high-minded people is their ability to harness the power of their imagination. The "What If" game gives you the perfect venue to exercise this ability and maybe come up with a few so-so story ideas along the way. But, as I so often like to say, there's no such thing as a bad idea, simply works-in-progress.

So step away from your work space or home office for an hour, head down to your nearest mall and just watch the people around you. Imagine what those people's stories are. Ask yourself "What If" and you might just find yourself with seeds for some amazing stories.

Far be it for me to disagree with the above quote from good ol' Tommy, but without that 1 percent of inspiration to jumpstart the creative process, the other 99 percent is doomed to languish forevermore in oblivion. Writers find inspiration all around them, and it's essential to keep our productivity going strong.

I've already attempted to debunk the myth of "writer's block" (see for that post). To me, claiming a bout of writer's block is like saying there's no inspiration left in the world, no ideas to ponder, nothing interesting to comment on and no motivation to express yourself through the written word.

From where I sit in the corner of this Starbucks as I check just how much of my Venti-sized coffee remains, that is unequivocally merde de taureau (pardon my French, ha!).

Take a look around and open your eyes... The world is teeming with never-ending complexities and amazing people, each with incredible stories of their own. Though it is certainly an imperfect one, the world is an awesome place, and inspiration is all around us. Grab a handful of it and see where it takes you! You might just surprise yourself...

Happy writing all,

1 comment:

  1. As a fellow writer myself, and one who suffers from "writer's block", it is refreshing to read a blog such as this.
    It adds a different angle as where to write from and why the elements of inspiration should be gathered from other arenas.
    I am inspired now, and I want to head to my nearest plaza and "What If" the people beelining in front of me.