It happens to all writers. Your head is full of ideas that paint great pictures in your head, which you’re longing to put on paper, but the muse Calliope just isn’t there with inspiration for you.
But if the mountain does not come to Mohammed, then Mohammed must go to the mountain. In other words, you can initiate the journey in search of inspiration yourself, and there are quite a few helpers already at your disposal to find it.
If you’re not sure what they are and how they can help you, let’s take a look at how the greatest writers in history found their sources of inspiration. Maybe you will recognize yourself in these situations as well.
1. Margaret Atwood: Find Inspiration in History
The author of popular dystopian novels Alias Grace and The Handmaid’s Tale, Margaret Atwood, is one of the most prominent authors known to today’s world.
Her best-selling novel, The Handmaid’s Tale, was adapted for the screen, but there is nothing extraordinary behind the events in this novel other than real-life events that inspired Ms. Atwood to create this great piece.
In her interview with Penguin Publishing, the author reveals that different events throughout history, like the brutal Communist Reign in Romania and protests over female rights, as well as the Iranian Revolution, brought her inspiration to create Gilead and its characters.
Draw inspiration from historical events:
- View the event from different perspectives. There is an ambiguity to every historical event, every point of view can be challenged, and there are always hidden details that can be a source of inspiration. Actively read what different sources say about the same event.
- Look for generalities. You don’t want to paraphrase the event exactly unless you’re writing a history book. Rather, find the idea, the general message, or the consequence behind a historical event and use it as inspiration.
- Apply the event to the current situation. What if the same event happened today? Would it be different? Clashing past and present can give you a lot of ideas that can become a powerful source of inspiration.
Human history is full of educational events that, unfortunately, we forget too fast. As a writer, you can bring these lessons back to the surface to inspire you and your readers.
2. Cormac McCarthy: Interact with People
One of the most well-known modern writers, Cormac McCarthy, drew his inspiration for his novel The Road from conversations with other people.
The Wall Street Journal article states that the author, although not very outgoing, prefers to interact with people “out of his field” – professional poker players or theoretical scientists. Such interactions, according to McCarthy, show him different perspectives of one issue, and these real conversations then turn into dialogue in his books.
Draw Inspiration from Interacting with People:
- Listen to the conversations around you. Usually, eavesdropping is considered bad, but listening to conversations between people around you is a good technique to find inspiration to write a dialogue. It allows you to be a third-party non-judgmental observer, who sees more in a conversation than its direct participants do.
- Initiate conversations with people from the field that interests you. If you’re writing a non-fiction book or a manual, and need different points of view on one issue, such an approach can help you collect more opinions. You can also do it online. For instance, if your book is about college or academic writing, you can visit custom academic writing websites or blogs for inspiring conversations.
- Keep track of the conversation. Here’s where your trusty notepad and a pen will come in handy. While listening or participating in a conversation, fix the most interesting and inspiring moments on paper.
With the technology available today, you can also listen to different conversations on podcasts or while watching a YouTube video. In these moments, inspiration can come at any time, so don’t miss out on this opportunity.
3. Stephen King: Inspiration is Within You
The master of horror is known for using his life and his struggles as the source of inspiration for his novels, many of which have been adapted for the screen.
A Vox article about his novels mentions that King, who has struggled with multiple addictions, often creates characters who suffer from different addictions. This helps him to self-reflect and also find inspiration for new great horror stories.
Such an approach to writing is not new to literature. Janine Hendriks, a writer and editor at Trustmypaper, says that “almost all writers, from Gustave Flaubert to even J.R.R. Tolkien, used the events from their lives as inspiration for their classic novels.”
Often, real-life events are the reason authors start writing in the first place. But we quickly forget the emotions tied to these events, which makes us lose the inspiration to write.
How to Restore inspiration
- Keep a diary. Fix all your emotions on paper and revisit your diary entries once in a while to relive the emotions that have inspired the idea for your book.
- Draw inspiration from physical objects. Is there something around you that reminds you of the events that inspired your book? Keep these objects close to you in case you need to restore inspiration.
- Connect with people who were with you at the time of the event. These people can help you see different perspectives of the same event, which can inspire you to create dialogue and develop a story further.
There is no shame in using your life as an inspiration for your book. Rather, it’s one of the strongest foundations that can continuously motivate you to keep writing.
4. Paulo Coelho: Ignite Your Passion through Travel
A famous Brazilian author and lyricist, Paulo Coelho, is known for the novels that speak directly to your heart. If you read The Alchemist, you must remember that a-ha moment, when the author unveils the true meaning of life, so wonderfully painted with words.
But how did Paulo Coelho come to this discovery himself?
Having quite a turbulent youth, the older Paulo Coelho decided to go on a pilgrimage trip around Europe, ultimately ending it in Spain’s El Camino de Santiago cathedral. Coelho told Oprah in their Super Soul Sunday interview that this trip was what inspired him to write his autobiographical novel The Pilgrimage and restored his faith in Christianity.
However, Coelho also mentions that he used this trip as a metaphor for one of his most popular books, The Alchemist, as well. In this novel, the shepherd called Santiago also travels to find the meaning of life.
The interesting plot twist here is that the Spanish cathedral, where Coelho finished his journey, was named after Santiago, or St. James (the saint patron of Spain).
Besides inspiring the story behind one of Coelho’s greatest novels, traveling also re-ignited his passion for writing, which he lost after his parents discouraged his dream of becoming a writer when he was young.
So, if you’re waiting for inspiration and it just doesn’t come to you, go search for it in the places that you haven’t explored yet. Travel is a powerful force that drives imagination, so trust the journey, and it will guide you to the source of inspiration.
5. Dan Brown: Gather Inspiration from Art
While you certainly can get inspired by other people’s lives or your own story, you can also draw inspiration from other works of art.
This helped Dan Brown create one of his famous novels, The Da Vinci Code, behind the plot of quite a few Leonardo Da Vinci works, including Mona Lisa. In the summary of this novel on his website, Dan Brown acknowledges that Da Vinci’s efforts to create complex works of art, full of hidden secrets and messages, inspired the idea for the book.
To develop the storyline, Dan Brown explored Da Vinci’s other popular works, like The Last Supper and Madonna of the Rocks. He wound in some anomalies and unexplained cryptic messages that became the source of ideas for the novel.
However, The Da Vinci Code is not the only Dan Brown book inspired by artworks. You will find the same influence in his Angels and Demons novel, for which he also explored the works of Botticelli as well as the architecture of cathedrals in the Vatican, the vast descriptions of which the reader can also find in this novel.
Keep on Searching
Inspiration is deceptive. You may find that using just one of these tips doesn’t give you the lasting feeling of inspiration and motivation.
But why not try all of them? Sometimes, when something seems as if it won’t work for you can become the best solution, bringing you enough inspiration to write a wonderful book.
Jessica Fender is a professional writer and educational blogger at Alltopreviews, an aggregator for useful college resources and websites. Jessica enjoys sharing her ideas to make writing and learning fun.