Thursday, June 07, 2007

Flashes of Inspiration

Originally posted on

One of the things I enjoy most about being a writer: those flashes of inspiration. You can be doing anything - working on your current novel, taking a walk, listening to a sermon (and if you're taking notes, you have pen and paper to jot down the idea before you lose it!), or even brushing your teeth.

My latest flash of inspiration came yesterday. I was sending a paragraph from one of my query letters to a writers' email group, and feeling a little down because my target publisher had already contracted books for my book's setting. But what other setting could I use? I didn't even know much about the state that was 5 minutes from my home . . .

Wait a minute. There was one aspect of the neighboring state I was very familiar with. Rogers. A live auction and farmer's market combined with open-air and indoor booths selling nearly everything imaginable - from homemade wood products to candy to Italian charms. Books and CDs and movies. Dogs and fish and parakeets, and if you picked the right day, a free kitten or two to a good home.

What a setting! Though my novel with the paragraph wouldn't work (being set in December), another story would. One that I still needed to dream up.

And that leads to several guidelines (they aren't exactly rules) I've discovered for keeping inspiration flowing.

One, don't talk about it much. You'll notice that above, there's nothing about my ideas for this future novel. Just bare facts about the setting. Sharing your ideas can set them in concrete. Right now, you need to focus on possibilities. If you share an early idea with a friend or family member and they think it's awesome, what happens when you come up with a different angle? Will you wonder if it's as awesome?

Two, wait for the characters. If you try to mass-produce characters to fit your idea, it's going to show. Sometimes the characters are your inspiration. Great. Otherwise, wait for them. Even if it takes months. It'll be worth it.

Three, know when you need to start. For every writer it's different. When I begin filling notebook pages with questions and answers about my story, I know it's about time. Beginning too soon can bring the story out in fits and starts. Waiting too long can be fatal. When I was part of a novel-writing course last year, I got to the point where I couldn't wait to start writing. Yet the course still had more weeks of planning the novel. So I waited, continuing to complete the planning assignments. When the time came to write, I only wrote a few chapters before setting it aside for the moment. That "moment" continues through today, and I wish I would have ignored the schedule and written.

Do you have guidelines for your flashes of inspiration? And do you have another name for them? (Flashes of inspiration is a bit awkward!)


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