Monday, July 15, 2013

Refueling Your Inspiration

Let’s be honest – we don’t have great ideas all the time. In fact, sometimes we don’t have any ideas. Other work gets in the way, with all those memos and meetings, or with the digging and polishing, the measuring and pouring. Then there are the dishes, the school concerts, the potlucks for the community soccer team, and the back of the fridge in need of cleaning. (Actually, there might be some great inspiration there for pandemic infections.) Sometimes the many demands of the real world can get in the way of imagining fresh ones.

Or sometimes, after writing several stories, we begin to think all our ideas are gone. Used up. Every time we put something on the page, it seems stupid or silly. It seems to have been said a million times already. We end up staring at the ceiling, which is as blank as the page on the screen.

What to do? Here are some answers from a few Inkies, as well as some story starters to help spark a few ideas.

To start with, when I need inspiration, I read fairy tales and folklore. Also, I read nonfiction books and articles, anything full of cultural details and individual stories. I especially like letter collections. I walk or run to clear my head. I amble around and take photographs.

William Alexander: “I have a very simple refueling trick. If my typing slows to a trickle, I turn off the computer and start scribbling in my notebook. If I run out of ink (metaphorically or literally), I switch back to the keyboard. Chocolate also helps.”

Lisa Gail Green: “The best fuel for me, when I seem to be writing stale, is reading a good book. It's really the best medicine and I find myself recharged and ready to go.”

P.J. Hoover: “I find that chatting about the story, even topically, with friends (not only writing friends), can really help kick start ideas. Also, simple brainstorming techniques like writing words that come to mind about a certain subject can really help get creativity going and help me avoid the clichés.”

Keely Parrack: “I find reading a huge help, preferably something really well written that has nothing to do with whatever I'm working on. I just read The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman and Her Fearful Symmetry (both of which let me escape into totally different worlds. And today I spent two hours working really productively on a pb while my kids went to the movies – another great refueling trick - coffee and limited time!

“Also just get out, go to a movie, visit an art gallery, walk in a cemetery - all opportunities to let your mind wonder and be inspired by new experiences. And if you can, travel is brilliant for helping you see everything with a fresh lens!”

Any ideas to add? What are some ways you refuel?

For those of you who could use a bit of a nudge this week, try some of the story starters below:
  • I saw it sideways, out of the corner of my eye. But it couldn’t have been there. Impossible.
  •   In the last two years, here’s what I’ve determined: lots of people in New York go to church on Sunday; lots sleep in. Mike and I found the perfect middle ground and meet for pizza. Sure, maybe both of us will end up in hell, but life will taste good until we get there. 
  • The light was a shade of, blue? Green? It was gray, or maybe something without a name. I reached toward it. 
  • The present he’d given her wasn’t entirely what she’d expected. In fact, it wasn’t what she’d expected at all.
  • Spring didn’t come, nor did summer. Four feet of snow at the end of July.
  • She opened up her mouth, and all that rose out of her was birdsong.
  • She wasn’t a witch, exactly. At least, that’s what she told everyone.
  • It had no power source: I was certain of that. Yet the metal form began to rise.


  1. Great ideas! Thanks. Though usually for me it isn't the lack of ideas, it's choosing which one to run with. They are all so shiny and new; I want to play with everything at once. Just like a child, I want it all. I don't want to pick. Except then, I don't write anything. I just admire the selection. That's not helpful either.

    1. Ah yes, the new idea love-affair. Every new idea seems perfect. This time, there will be no arguments, no tears. You feel euphoric - you've found the one. Or perhaps several perfect ones.

      Until you end up arguing and crying and feeling more than a little lost.

      Maybe pick the one that seems most likely to interest you through the long-haul?

  2. Love the story starters and the tips! I find that reading anything will help my mind start heading in creative directions. And I guess it depends on what is making me stuck. Right now. I am researching a new book. I know I haven't found the center of the story yet, so I am continuing the research via a mix of nonfiction and fiction until I find it.

    Thanks for,the great post!

    1. Hey, my pleasure.

      Yeah, isn't research great? I love looking at old photos, too. The internet has really changed the scope of what one can see from a small, rural office.

  3. Ya know, the greatest thing about the E Inkpot is that we never have to feel alone - thanks, Laura, for the encouragement, and yes! the inspiration. This is such a great community who seem to struggle with the same things I do. Scary.

    Hhmmm, and you might have a pandemic infection or two in the back of your fridge too, huh? I'm only going to deal with it when I need ideas for procrastination ;)

    Now I'm off to take some of your advice ... happy day!

    1. Oh no, we're all in the same boat, Pippa. (Especially once the stuff in the back of the fridge rises up to take over the world.)

  4. Great story starters! Also good suggestions from the INkies. I find, however, that nothing beats taking a shower--something about running water. (I've considered installing a fountain in my office, but then I'd just have to pee all the time.) Also naps. Naps are good in so many ways.

    My fridge is disgusting--I'm afraid to open the back vegetable drawer.

  5. Yes - Showers! I don't know how I could've forgotten that one.

  6. I am SO glad I'm not the only one w/a fridge that I'm not proud of, lol!

  7. The funniest thing about this post, I think, is that it has proven we'd all rather write than clean the fridge.

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