Writing Inspiration: Where Do Writers Get Their Ideas?

Magic Beyond Words
Magic Beyond Words, TV movie about J.K. Rowling’s earlier life and the creation of Harry Potter up to the film release of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone

Originally released by Lifetime, image retrieved from IMDb

Nothing is more mystifying than inspiration. Inspiration for all art–paintings, sculpture, film, writing–seems to come from nowhere. We’ve all read books, stories, and poems which make us wonder how the writer could have possibly thought to write them in the first place. The origins of our favorite books captivate us. I can’t tell you how often I watch Magic Beyond Words: The J.K. Rowling Story. We want to learn more about our favorite writers’ inspiration in the hopes that they could help us find our own.

I won’t pretend to speak for all writers. We may claim to know where other writers get their ideas but we don’t. Honestly, we don’t always know the source of our ideas.

There’s only one thing I can say with any confidence: if they can find inspiration, so can you. As proof, let me tell you about my own experience with finding inspiration.

I seem to get my ideas from the most random places. As an undergrad, my mind drifted during class much more often than I am willing to admit. I doodled in the margins of my notebook, worked on essays from other classes, and listened to my professors just enough to know when I needed to jot something down. As I zoned, I would retreat into my imagination, allowing myself to become submersed in elaborate worlds. Sometimes I would leave class with a plot, other times with new character histories, and others with an entire scene written.

Sitting through lectures, at the movies, taking walks, I find inspiration whenever I can let my mind drift from the present.

Find isn’t the right word. I don’t actively look for inspiration. In fact, writing inspiration alludes me when I attempt to chase it down. The ideas must come to me. They find me, not the other way around.

External conditions aside, inspiration finds me most when I’m reading or watching TV and movies. I’m not talking solely about fiction. Academic articles, news reports, documentaries, fiction and nonfiction alike inspire me when I’m reading/watching it. Why? It’s all thanks to the “what if” impulse.

What if the Confederacy had won the Civil War?

What if the Four Horsemen became American politicians?

What if the Roswell UFO and Kelly’s “Little Green Men” were connected by more than the “supposed alien sighting” factor?

This impulse isn’t limited to “what if” questions or to what I watch and read. Why, who, and how, what I hear and what I live, they all spark my imagination.

Why might aliens have such large eyes?

How did so many branches of my family end up in California?

What if the legend about Lemurians in Mount Shasta isn’t a legend? (Check out this link if you haven’t heard this story. It’s humorous, ridiculous, and intriguing all at once.)

Natural writing inspiration
It’s hard not to be inspired by beauty like this, and I can see why people think there’s something mythical happening in that mountain.

Sunrise on Mount Shasta, picture by Michael Zanger, retrieved from Mount Shasta Wikipedia entry

Inspiration comes from everything and nothing. What inspires a writer once may not inspire him/her again. That which annoyed a writer once may become the catalyst for his/her next novel. You never know what could spark your imagination. All you can do is read, watch, and experience everything to the fullest in the hopes that something, no matter how obscure, will catch your attention and send inspiration your way.

I’ll write more on what inspires me in future posts. In the meantime, where does your writing inspiration originate? Discuss it in the comments or email me and you might be featured in an installment of “Writing Inspiration”.


Stephanie's Logo
Designed by Stephanie Hoogstad circa 2011


Share Your Thoughts