Sources of Inspiration for new writers
(part 1 of 2)
Photo credit Tim Arterbury unsplash.com
When I browse through posts in writing blogs, I run across comments from aspiring young writers (AYWs) that they’re not sure about what to write. I heard the same complaint in my writing classes, even creative writing classes where students chose to participate (rather than having it required for their degrees).
I’ve heard any number of approaches to finding inspiration, many of them great. To me, however, AYWs who can’t find the inspiration to write might want to ask if they really want to write or they like the dream of being a writer.
The protests begin: Shouldn’t we dream of becoming writers? Shouldn’t we follow our dreams? I can only respond, not necessarily. For every writer who makes a great living following her dream, there are dozens of writers who succeed as writers but make their money in a niche—chasing down free lance gigs, working jobs in publishing and teaching. A hundred more chase the dream online, at workshops and at writers’ conferences.
Even more important, too many ASWs don’t know the difference between the dream of success as a writer, and being in love with the dream of becoming a writer. How can you tell the difference? I would begin with the question of inspiration.
The idea that begs to be written
Most first time writers, the serious ones, have an idea (or two or three) smoldering at the back of their brains. Those stories may have been smoldering for years—smoking, casting off sparks, even starting a short-lived flame or two. Unfortunately, many AYWs never commit their ideas to paper because they doubt their abilities, or they don’t know where to start. They discover the need to search for ideas only when they’re established and need to write more books and articles to sustain and promote their careers.
If you’re an ASW with an idea that won’t go away, just start writing. Whatever you can. Contrary to depictions on movies and TV, few writers start with the first line of the first chapter. The first line and first chapter shape the entire book. Write (or rewrite) them when you complete the first draft.
Instead, sit down and write dialogue between two characters, a description of a location, or even a dozen notes. Not even an outline. (Even outlines come later.) Experiment with different scenes, sections, and notes until you feel the story take shape. That’s when you outline and fill in the holes. If need to, join a workshop.1
Don’t worry about plot points, scene structure or any other crap you paid for in a book. You fill those in once you see the arc of your story. The arc is your map to a finished story or book.
Those scraps and notes you slaved over might not end up in the final draft. I’ve discarded more chapters than I’ve used. Think of your brain as a clogged up faucet. You have an idea stuck behind a pipeful of junk, and you need to push the junk through. The practice of writing provides the pressure to push the junk out and start the flow of ideas from your brain to your word processor (whether it be Microsoft Word or a pen on paper).
The disproof is in the empty pudding bowl
Now for the flip side:
If you don’t have any ideas smoldering in the back of your brain, waiting for you to add the tender to make fire, you may just like the idea of being a writer. Wanting to write doesn’t qualify you to write. (Sorry, but it’s true.)
I recommend you take a creative writing class or, if you prefer non-fiction, an essay writing or journalism class. At least two. Your assignments will give you plenty of ideas you can convert to salable work, and your teacher’s feedback can help you decide if you’re really cut out to be a writer.2You might also look into writing careers with employers. You could write ad copy, PR, research online, edit and even proofread. One job often opens the door to a better one. I proofread for newspapers and the state legislature, edited for book publishers and periodicals, revised tech manuals originally written by Japanese engineers and translated by ESL students, and wrote more ad copy than I care to remember.
If you’re still “waiting for inspiration” and not willing to pursue a writing related career, you may need to look to another dream.
- Make sure it includes published writers, the writers who succeeded at some small level. Advice from other ASWs who heard something or read it in a book can help, but never as much.
- I recommend two classes because some teachers are assholes. I know this from personal experience having taught at high school and college levels. They may take a disliking to your work just because they took a disliking to you. Other teachers may be equipped to help you. I don’t doubt that I was a poor fit for some students.