Moment of truth: Have you ever put off writing because you just didn’t feel “inspired”? I wager most of us (myself included) would have to plead guilty.
Lack of Inspiration holds a high position on the list of excuses wanna-be writers make for not writing.
Fair enough, you may say. Inspiration is a key ingredient of Creativity, right? You can’t create cold. One needs a catalyst to get the stone rolling; a spark to ignite the flame; a bolt of lightning to strike life into Frankenstein’s monster before he can rapturously proclaim “It’s aliiiive!”
But what if the Inspiration you’re waiting for doesn’t come?
The word “Inspiration” comes from Latin that literally refers to the act of God breathing -or inspiring– life into being… breathing a soul into mere flesh & bones. Prime example: in the book of Genesis, God breaths life into Adam (the 1st man) & thereby infuses him with God’s own attributes, including & especially Creativity! Then he tells Adam to get up & start using it! Look around at all those stars, plants & animals! Give them names! Grow gardens, build houses, write sonnets, procreate & fill the earth with the fruit of Creativity…& all from that one little initial spark of Inspiration.
So here’s what I’m driving at. If you’re alive reading this, you have the same gift of Inspiration Adam had– a soul to drive you, 5 senses to take in the world around you & a brain to make some sense and use out of it all *(that, you might say is the bare bones of how Creativity works).
So why do we feel we’re lacking Inspiration? Maybe we’ve just forgotten how to find it. Maybe our 5 senses need a dusting off. Maybe instead of waiting for lightening to strike us right where we sit, we need to become storm chasers… or more aptly, Inspiration Chasers (you can just hear the epic theme music cue, right?).
I’m talking about The Art of Observation. If you’ll master it, I guarantee inspiration for your craft will never again be hard to find. But be warned: once you learn how to look, you may find Inspiration lurking literally everywhere, more than your brain & notebooks combined can possibly contain! Leonardo da Vinci summed up this principle well when he said
l’esperienza fu maestra di chi scrisse bene. (Experience was the good writer’s teacher)
When we experience the world, not passively, but through the kind of active observation that would make Sherlock Holmes proud, we have all the inspiration we need to fuel our creative writing.
So here’s my first tip: Be prepared to be surprised!
Inspiration comes in funny ways & when you least expect it… only you should be expecting it everywhere & all the time. For instance, last week I was invited to a Sunday lunch. Only when I arrived at the lunch did I discover that I was one of ten guests & the only one under the age of 75. The afternoon was spent loudly articulating every word for those hard of hearing & repeating myself to the one lady with memory loss. A waste of an afternoon when I might have been reading Rilke or waiting in meditation for the inspiration bug to bite? Ha! I came away with mountains of it!
I soon discovered my lunch companions were a kaleidoscope of mannerisms, dialects, peculiarities & brilliant senses of humour, to say nothing of the wonderful narratives they shared from bygone days that might as well be fantasy lands for one my age! Their lives were rich, their perspectives so different, & they were so very willing to share all that wealth with anyone willing to listen… on that Sunday afternoon, that someone was the privileged I.
Anyone you meet, if you look & listen long enough, has something unique to offer as fodder for fiction. And the very young & very old in particular seem to overflow with inspiring tales and insights. So don’t shun new company. Strike up chats. Be a listen ear. Hear the untold stories that walk right past you every day. They might just inspire the plot for your next fiction piece!
Secondly, gird yourself with the writer’s weapons: en garde!
Once you’ve learned to look for inspiration in every new environment, you’ll want a way to catch it & keep it before it flits away (beware the writer’s curse: Inspiration always strikes whilst in the shower or behind the wheel! Do not attempt to write or type in these situations!).
Keep a handy little notebook & writing utensil of choice on your person whenever possible. One of the best habits you can form is keeping an observation journal. Write down your first impressions of a person, place or object. What made them or it stand out? How do they differ from others around them? Jot down physical traits, speech (tone, pace, notable turns of phrase), attitude, movements, expressions… sky’s the limit! Just get it down & don’t assume you’ll remember later on.
And finally, distill your observations into literary descriptions
you could stop at step 2 & still reap the benefits of observation: your mind & notebooks would be that much fuller of potential characters, settings or intriguing objects. But if you aim to write to the next level, why not go a step further?
A good writer does more than string together a load of adjectives when describing someone or something. She chooses those descriptions-nouns & verbs as well as adjectives & adverbs–that capture the essence of the thing or character. Remember, your readers have the gift of creative thought as well. They can fill in the gaps. What you the writer must give them is an impression on which they can build their own images of your created world.
And here we come to the beauty of writing. The writer captures inspiration in order to distill it and create something new to inspire the reader. You might call it recycling inspiration! But it all begins by putting to death the old excuse that you’re “waiting for inspiration”. Instead, practice the Art of Observation! You’ll soon find Inspiration is yours for the taking & for the making!