A writer friend once asked me where I get my inspiration from. I don’t think there’s an easy answer to that question; neither do I think there’s one answer to that question.
I’ve read a thousand times before that inspiration comes from the following:
Newspaper articles, podcasts, blogs, radio shows…
There’s this guy I once knew who…
I was walking down the street when I saw…
I had a mad drunken uncle who would…
The list of “inspirations” rolls ever on. But do they? And are they really moments of inspiration? I’m not sure. I prefer to think of the above examples as trigger points that unlock the writer’s real inspiration.
Fact: Writers carry emotional baggage. That baggage whether we like it or not swims around in our sub-conscious. That baggage is both positive and negative and that’s where the real inspiration lies. It sits there waiting for the right vehicle, the right trigger point to release it into the wild.
Take my story, Night Owls. I was reading a newspaper article about two historic events that caused the sun to darken over for about a year in 536AD and again in 1816AD. That’s interesting I thought, so I started writing. What became of that writing? Nothing, because it was interesting, but not inspiring. There’s a difference.
About a week later I was reading Steinbeck’s, “Of Mice and Men.” I love the beginning of that book. We meet these two characters on a woodland trail, they are obviously good friends, who trust one another but they are also very different.
I started thinking: What if these two characters didn’t trust one another, what if they’ve only just met?
I stopped reading Steinbeck’s novel there and then, and I still haven’t gone back to it. I started writing this story about two characters who meet on a narrow trial, on a bleak and desolate world of endless night. The trail is so narrow with natural obstacles all around them that they can’t walk around each other. They have to be able to trust one another to let the other by.
Was the inspiration Steinbeck or that newspaper article about a darkened Earth, or both? It was neither. The inspiration was Trust.
Trust is locked away in my own personal baggage. I believe in people, my friends and my family, and I trust them impeccably. I expect the same in return. I can be a bit reserved with people until I get to know them, until I feel I can trust them. Once I’ve let them inside I’m vulnerable, and that trust can and has been betrayed. It hurts!
That’s the inspiration for Night Owls. That baggage was sitting there on a shelf waiting to be used, and I didn’t know it. Some would call it theme, and I wouldn’t disagree. Night Owls is about trust and one or two other things, but it doesn’t mean that theme and inspiration can’t be aligned.
The point of the blog? Sometimes it’s a good thing to deliberately hide that story in a drawer for a good six months. When you go back to it ask yourself one question: What was the real underlying inspiration behind this piece? Not the trigger point, but the actual real source.
If you take that time to look deeper into your writer’s soul I can guarantee one thing: A really tight and focussed re-write.
Take care and good luck with your writing.
For years I’ve always been fascinated by the tower in the above picture. It’s not far from where I live. It resides at the entrance to the village of Little Brington. The rest of the church is long gone. The entrance to the tower from within the absent church has been bricked up with similar stonework so it stands as a complete tower.
All the gravestones have been removed. The trees you can see are growing on what are now unmarked graves. Two sides of the graveyard are fronted by a stone wall. As I took the photo I was standing right in front of the stone wall. The wooden fencing you can see prevents the sheep from escaping the local farmer’s field.
The front entrance where the parishioners would have entered the churchyard is just off to the right of the picture. It’s a typical English wooden porch churchyard entrance which has been boarded up.
The churchyard is tended. As you can see the stonework is clean. There are no bird nests poking out of the window slats on the bell tower, or tucked away on the roof. At the time the picture was taken there’s some sparse dead wild grass about a foot high. At some point this will get cut back, it always is.
I was cycling past the tower today and I decided to stop and take a photograph. I’m glad I did. I’ve often thought I’d use the tower in a short story. There’s at least two I have in development which it would fit into quite nicely. However, I can’t escape the feeling that the tower deserves a short story all of its own. A story where the history / mystery of the tower is central. It’s not something I can start writing straight away. I may have to do another pass on ‘The Thirteenth Camera’ and I’m close to finishing a first draft of another story with a working title of ‘Night Owls’. I need to get those works finished first. After that the above picture ‘may’ be the next project.
M J Wolfson - That's me.