Friday, 1 February 2013

Inspiration: flashes, black holes and your cat

Inspiration is a funny thing. I laugh at it all the time.

No, not really. Inspiration is actually a thing that rather worries me, which is how I've spent a whole month convincing myself I had nothing to say on the subject. Meanwhile I created an entire world, wrote 35,000 words on a brand-new first draft and even attempted a 48-hour novel challenge. I made it to 5,000 words on that one - an attempt at reviving a character I created when I was either thirteen or fourteen.

Anyway, this is supposed to be my January post for the WriYe Blogging Circle. On with the questions before February advances much further:

Where do you get your initial spark of inspiration?

I go and look under the bed, because that's the usual place my cat hides things.

Okay, now the serious answer. If I can come up with one, anyway. I just sort of decide I want to write a new story and things start coming together. For that 48-hour challenge, a random conversation about the author-time ages of characters led me to start thinking about the past. Then the perfect soundtrack came up - an album with the same name as my first ever fantasy character. I'd love to drop a bunch of heavy metal links here, by the way. Maybe at the end of the post.

So, I don't really know where inspiration comes from. I open up the part of my head where new stories form and ideas rush to fill it.

Is it from anything important?

Not usually. Random conversations, songs that unexpectedly strike me, impulsive decisions to take on a new challenge... stuff like that is what makes me want to start writing.

What else about inspiration intrigues you?

Honest answer? The nagging feeling that somewhere in the previous two sections I told myself a whopping big lie.

I think I have an idea what it might be. I started this post with a spark - that line about 'inspiration is a funny thing'. What's kept me going the rest of the time is a quite different force, though. The thing I think of as a 'spark of inspiration' lasted exactly two sentences, which is about how far it gets me into a story.

If I poke my subconscious a little harder, I come up with a certain comparison - in both this blog post and the draft I'm working on right now, the ideas line themselves up much better while I'm writing than if I just sit down and think about it. I have an idea and write about it, and while I'm typing my subconscious connects something else to that first idea, so I keep writing and connections keep being made.

So that's what intrigues me about inspiration - the idea that writing a little bit makes it easier to write the next bit. They accumulate and they all sit in the subconscious as much as on paper, so that later on a bit from the first scene might connect to a bit in the twentieth, giving you what you need for the fiftieth. It seems much more like a process of accretion than a single blinding flash.

I just compared my writerly brain to a black hole, didn't I? That spot where everything connects is the singularity itself and all the little bits and pieces of ideas form the accretion disc.

(Apologies for my clear lack of knowledge about black holes. I hope the metaphor makes sense anyway.)

What is your advice to other people to kick start their inspiration?

Go write stuff. Ideas don't run out - the more you write, the more stuff is going to come to you.

A lot of people seem to think that's really annoying advice, so I'll add something else to it: you don't have to let anyone else see it. You're making up a perfect, awesome story because your cat has sensitive tummy fur and prefers to sit on printed manuscripts. You don't want to waste the paper on something that kitty might not like, so you go through and rewrite and edit until the story makes the most fantastic cat bed ever.

If people happen to like this manuscript you created and polished to be the perfect cat bed... well, that's just a fringe benefit.


  1. i love your advice. i find that the people who think it's annoying are generally the same people who look for each and every excuse NOT to write.

  2. All right, this is pretty late to comment, but... >_>

    Yes, the black hole metaphor sounds about right. Everything gets sucked into the plot singularity, where all is chaos and nothing makes sense. It just gradually builds up. Still, the point of building up a constant writing habit is good advice. In order for things to build up, the system must be in constant motion.

    In any case, I know what lies inside the singularity. It's the central reason why we write:


    I think I have everything locked in a box that is labeled 'No admittance to humans until the fourth draft."

    Maybe by that point, we'll subvert the laws of physics, and turn inspiration into awesome.