Monday, 12 August 2013

Seeking Inspiration. Ann Evans

Harbury Library recently

Whenever I do a school visit I'll inevitably be asked 'Where do you get your inspiration from?'
Before I tell them, I usually turn the question around and get them thinking about where their story ideas come from. 

After that discussion, I'll usually tell them how I came to write this book ot that book. In almost every instance the idea is based around something that I've done, seen, heard or experienced in real life. 

However, the more often I repeat these anecdotes, the more easy and obvious it all sounds. Probably because I'm looking back, and time and distance seems to have put it all into some clear-cut logical sequence. In reality, when considering where inspiration came from for a particular story I'm pretty certain I've lost track of the actual time factor between getting that spark of an idea and actually getting organised enough to write something on it. Perhaps weeks or even months have slipped by before a few words get woven into a first draft of a story. So in retrospect, when we (or at least I) talk about finding inspiration, it sounds a lot easier than it actually is.

I know that with The Beast I was deliberately seeking inspiration for a thriller. I'd finished writing a series for Scholastic which had taken a lot of plotting, as they were whodunnits. But then I was free and I wanted to see where my imagination would take me.

Holidaying in Scotland was the perfect location to set a story with those majestic mountains and deep forests – plenty of scope there for an adventure. And just as I advise other budding writers to do, I asked myself all those 'what ifs'  which eventually led to a storyline and characters. (At least I practised what I preached there!)  

So actively looking for inspiration can work. But generally  it strikes when you least expect it, and sometimes the more you try the harder it gets.

A general piece of advice I give to students is to keep an 'ideas notebook' because those elusive ideas can flit into your head and vanish just as quickly. But where's my notebook? Well actually, I either fill up my notebooks and the ideas are lost somewhere between the pages; or the actual notebooks get buried under the other papers and 'stuff' on my desk. 

Although I know when an idea has really taken hold, because I'll start typing it up. Sometimes though, it gets forgotten or overtaken by more pressing jobs. Then, months (even years) later I'll come across that sketchy idea again by accident and decide that it's not too bad – or alternatively, wonder what on earth was going through my head.

Inspiration is a funny old thing. Here's what a few well known writers have said on the subject. Do any of these quotes strike a chord with you?

Inspiration is a guest that does not willingly visit the lazy. Pyotr Tchaikovsky

Amateurs sit and wait for inspiration, the rest of us just get up and go to work. Stephen King

I write when I’m inspired, and I see to it that I’m inspired at nine o’clock every morning. P eter De Vries

If you wait for inspiration to write; you’re not a writer, you’re a waiter. Dan Poynter

A writer is working when he's staring out of the window. Burton Rascoe.

Writing is just having a sheet of paper, a pen and not a shadow of an idea of what you are going to say. Francoise Sagan

And this quote from Raymond Chandler made me smile, because it's exactly what I've done in the book I'm writing now. Trying to decide how my protagonist should first encounter his pretty unpleasant cousin, I did exactly what Chandler suggested...

When in doubt, have a man come through the door with a gun in his hand. Raymond Chandler

Thank you Mr Chandler.

And finally, Inspiration is the act of drawing up a chair to the writing desk. Anon.

How about you, do you wait for inspiration to strike, or just knuckle down and write?

Feel free to take a look at my website:

Latest books: (under the pseudonym S.Carey)


Richard said...

It's been said on here before that inspiration is a meeting of two ideas. That's certainly what happened when I wondered why Dolphin sounds so much like doleful, and yet they seem to have so much fun. (the strange mis-spelling there is correct in context.) That sort of inspiration does seem to need time to stew. I thought that one was quick, but it seems to have been four months.

On the other hand my latest short story was a very workmanlike project to explore the background of my novel-in-progress. I needed to show fairy-land. It seemed a good idea to have a child stolen by the fairies. Those are generally babies, but the youngest child in who's POV I thought I could write was 3-4. I wrote the beginning, then the end, and then I filled in the middle bits to prove the end.

Joan Lennon said...

Thanks for this, Ann. There's another good post on this very subject over on Girls Heart Books today, by Sophia Bennett. Well worth a look:

Karen said...

I often quote that famous saying of Albert Einstein's 'Imagination is more important than knowledge for knowledge is limited but imagination embraces the whole world.' So use your imagination to use new worlds, dramatic scenarios, let the story lead then research the facts.

Sue Purkiss said...

Great quotes, Ann!