Monday, 5 June 2017

The Randomness of Inspiration by Savita Kalhan

One of the most common questions a writer is asked is: where do you get your inspiration from? I would answer that, for me, it is completely random. Triggers have included flyers, little snippets of songs, newspaper reports, a book, a picture, a line from a film or an overheard conversation, not that I make too much of a habit of eavesdropping. It’s endless and it is random.

The inspiration for The Long Weekend was very direct. I had seen a flyer that was sent home from
local schools warning parents that a driver of a flashy car had been seen outside schools and had tried to snatch a child. It triggered an idea that became a story.

For other manuscripts the answer has not been so direct. It has been as mundane as watching a rerun of a Jason Bourne film, which made me wonder what it would be like to wake up with no memory and inspired my teen thriller, Memory Loss Boy. Or as heart-breaking as when I first saw the image of the toddler washed up on a beach on a Greek Island, which inspired my short story, The Death of Princess.

Recently I was asked to write a short story for an anthology with a particular theme. I didn’t have any ideas of how to begin it, but in the gym one morning with my headphones plugged in, listening to a random selection of music, I caught a single phrase from a rap song. The song has been around for over a decade, and I usually don’t listen to rap lyrics, but just at that moment the phrase caught my imagination. It was a great working title and with that I sat down and wrote the story. The finished short story bears absolutely no resemblance whatsoever to the rap song, by the way, and it’s quite likely the title will change too. My short story for teens and young adults, Aladdin's Lamp, was inspired by an article about the criminalisation of homosexuality in India. The story is published in Stories from The Edge

Walking along Dollis Brook
Just as the process of being inspired to write a story is pretty random, the absence of inspiration can be pretty disheartening. I’m sure most writers have their own ways of dealing with it. Setting the pen down, or closing the laptop is usually my starting point. From there it may involve going for a walk along Dollis Brook and reading, which soon moves onto spring-cleaning, hoovering, doing the washing and gardening. All these things can become convenient displacement activities when the words are not flowing the way they should. 

Garlic and Onions - enough for a year.
Four varieties of potatoes

My allotment has always been my go-to place when I’m stuck or in need of inspiration. I don’t always do writing related thinking there, but it’s a place where, while my hands are busy yanking out those weeds or digging over a plot in preparation for sowing, the mind wanders freely.

Strawberries - soon!

It’s important to remember that it’s not always about the daily word count, although it does lend focus to aim at a particular number much in the way a deadline might focus you. When I’m in the full flow of writing a book, I aim at a 1,000 words per day. At the end of the day I might have gone much further, or fallen short of the target, but that’s okay as there’s always tomorrow.

The other thing I do when inspiration has deserted me is to write something else. I have a whole collection of opening paragraphs, half-written stories in various genres, story ideas, and short stories. A cupboard full of manuscripts is better than one manuscript because there’s more chance that one of them might see the light of day. 

So where do you find your inspiration, and is it as random as mine?


David Thorpe said...

My most successful method is to use the half-waking state, when the mind is relaxed and dreamlike. I often programme my mind with a plot problem to solve before I go to sleep. By morning, a solution has usually arisen.

Savita Kalhan said...

I'll have to try that, David. Thanks for the tip!

Chitra Soundar said...

My inspiration usually comes from random
Phrases, something I observed or what-if? When I can't be working on the current WIP I always open an idea that I had jotted down and try to work on it.