Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Feeding the Imagination

Posted by: Jenny Schwartz
“Where do you get your inspiration?”

It’s a question that triggers sarcastic responses from many a writer.

Well, dear. I walk down the garden, dip in the well, fish out the odd newt and what’s left, I throw at the computer.

But it’s a valid question. Where do ideas come from? And is there a secret to generating them?

I think there is.

I think ideas come from engagement with life. I’m a cowardly introvert, so when I talk about engaging with life I’m not advocating loud parties, bungee jumping and introducing yourself to ten strangers a day. I’m talking about making a mental shift from “observer” status to “interrogator”.

Liberate your inner toddler and ask “Why?”

“Why is that woman smiling although her shoe is caught in a stormwater grate?”
“Why do ants wave their antennas?”
“Why is this painting blue with pink polka dots? Why dots?”

Forget the old aphorism, “curiosity killed the cat”. Curiosity is vital to inspiration. Cultivate it, then let it loose on a range of inputs.

Because this is the bottomline: You have to feed your imagination.

Books, paintings, music, people, blogs, movies, changes of scene, food, moods, new skills.

Of course, your enemy here is time and all the demands competing to eat yours up. I cheat and use the internet to broaden my mental horizons with quick, shallow brushstrokes. When something interests me, then I delve deeper.

Inspiration doesn’t require you to be an expert, but it does require curiosity.

If you’re curious, I recommend:

Tumblr. My personal page of favourite images is here.

It's just a matter of practice. To quote the Red Queen:
Why, sometimes I've believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast.

I also have a copy of my latest paranormal romance novella, Angel Thief, to give away. If you’d like an angel and sexy djinni in your life, leave a comment and I’ll draw a random winner in a week’s time. 

So, where do you get your inspiration?


  1. Wonderful post, Jenny! I get inspiration from everywhere (as most writers say) but some of my favorite ways to get inspired is through music (especially songs with lyrics), reality shows, talk shows, and visiting new places.

  2. I get a lot of ideas when I read. I'm talking the newspaper, non-fiction, mythology and history. Lots of ideas pop into my head when I take walks. Walking is another way I work through plot problems and when I'm stuck. I keep a three ring binder where I write ideas and preliminary research. As it is now, I'm going to have to live to be 150 years old in order to get all the stories written! I'm only on my 4th, and the 1st really doesn't count.

  3. Shoot, I keep forgetting to fish out the newts -knew I was skipping a step somewhere!
    I think you're dead on Jenny. Inspiration is everywhere - like what about all those birds that dropped dead out of the sky in that little Arkansas town? There's gotta be a thousand stories that could start there.

  4. Music and movies are the biggest source of inspiration for me, and not necessarily inspiration to write something specific, but just that urge to write, to create. I also work through plot problems when I walk...and in the shower. The shower muse is the best. She always comes through. ;)

  5. You all made me smile because I'm nodding agreement. Walking definitely helps plotting. I find driving does the same (and I swear I'm not dangerous on the road!). But the huge winner for problem plot solving is the shower!

    As for inspiration...

    Nicole, I hadn't thought of talk and reality shows but you're absolutely right. Sitting there and thinking what else the people (I nearly said characters!) could have done is cool. And travel shows and documentaries. David Attenborough remains my favourite docu host, although he's so old now. His 50 years old travel books are fab. (um, sidetrack)

    Barbara, aren't ideas funny? They just sleet into the head and bounce around. I like your three ring binder. I have files on my computer with quick jottings and then I have spiral notebooks where I keep research notes. Every Wednesday I share an improbable thought on my blog since (like you) I know I'm not going to have time to develop all the ideas into stories.

    Eleri LOL Never mind, I'm sure the newts are adding meat and gristle to your stories! We got that news story of the Arkansas birds here in West Aus and immediately joined the locals in believing the worst. Scared of fireworks? Phooey. Surely every bird in the US would drop dead fourth of July if that were the case?

    Jane, I think that's a hugely important point. Inspiration is more than a story idea, it's the itch to create. I love that feeling.

  6. Inspiring!

    Now if I could just get past the newt and the stormwater.


    Oh, look! Shiny!

  7. TOTALLY TRUE! Observing people and situations like that consistently fuels my creative fire. What a great post!

  8. Taryn, I'm laughing here, "Oh, look! Shiny!" I have that same magpie curiosity (short attention span). And you know, newts taste lovely in story stew.

    Christine, I never used to think of myself as a people watcher, but I've given in and admitted the truth. I watch people and I speculate. I thinks it's an occupational hazard -- or is it what lead us to writing?

  9. Excellent post, Jenny. I find myself incessantly curious about everything (except DIY and house work). I love watching the news and wondering what 'really' happened :)

  10. Toni, glad you enjoyed the post. I have to admit, my curiosity ends at DIY, too. Through sad experience I've learned that inventiveness on DIY, as in housework, only leads to chaos and an extra long clean up, not to mention calling in the experts.

  11. Great post, Jenny! I get my inspiration from watching people -- malls are great, amusement parks slightly better. Traffic jams hilarious. And, of course, reading the newspaper or watching the news peaks my curiosity so I have to go do a little research.

  12. Kristina -- traffic jams, yes! and even at traffic lights. I know I'm guilty of providing amusement to others by singing animatedly along with the radio -- good thing they can't hear me, I have the worst voice.

  13. Inspiration abounds everywhere as all your commenters have proven. We carry our imagination and questions with us, so anything can spark the flame for an idea. :)

  14. Great post, Jenny. Whenever people ask where I get my ideas, I'll direct them here. You've explained it beautifully.

  15. Eleni, what you said is so true, and it gave me this weird mental image. All of us (writers and readers) as mobile inspiration towers, just like cellphone towers, set on receive and transmit. *grin*

    Janni -- thank you :)

  16. I'm a firm believer in drawing inspiration from everything. Music is a personal favorite of mine. In fact, one of my editors turned me onto a band the other day and I got this crazy idea for a story watching one of their videos. I still need to flesh it out to see if it can work, but the premise is there.

  17. Seleste, editors are literally inspirational :) Good luck with the idea development.

  18. That's certainly a more helpful answer than the "everywhere and nowhere" I tend to fall back on. {SMILE}

    But where do you find the newts? I don't think I've run into them. {GRIN}

    Anne Elizabeth Baldwin

  19. "everywhere and nowhere" works for me :) As for the newts, I think they spontaneously generate when you say the opening lines of the play whose name shall not be spoken. "Bubble, bubble, toil and trouble, cauldrun burn and cauldrun bubble..."

  20. Ta da! The winner of a copy of "Angel Thief" is Nicole North.

    Nope, it wasn't first come, first served, randomly called up number one on the free number generator. Yup, I've abandoned my old school names in a hat method for numbers and tech. I think I just saw hamhocks fly past the window ;)

    Congrats, Nicole. Would you like a pdf, epub or whatever version? and happy reading :)

  21. I won!!!?! I hope I'm not too late. I'm so bad about keeping up with things. I'd love to have your book!! Either pdf or epub will be great! Thanks!!

  22. Nicole, I've sent you both! Happy reading :)


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