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Inspiration is often seen as this illusive thing, as if it’s not something one can capture, but must, instead, wait for. The lightning bolt theory. Or that it’s something creative people are born with, an exclusive gift. But there’s nothing mystical or stormy about inspiration. Inspiration is simply a choice.

Orson Scott Card said, “Everybody walks past a thousand story ideas every day. The good writers are the ones who see five or six of them. Most people don’t see any.”

Novice or frustrated writers often ask successful authors, “Where do you get your ideas?” Most authors smile, shrug, and answer: everywhere, everything. And it’s true – it’s not an evasion of the question or a selfish way to hide the secret to success. Inspiration is all around us, all the time.

Maybe it’s an intriguing person sitting on a park bench. Maybe it’s an overheard heated conversation. A newspaper article. A painting. An errant thought. A dream.

A discerning writer sees those moments, as Card said, and uses them to create. A dedicated writer looks at the world with an eye to story.

Ways to Capture Inspiration

1. Pay Attention

It’s as easy as that. Watch, listen, notice. What in your every day life stands out? What are you drawn to, repulsed by? What places do you like; how do those place make you feel? How do you feel in this situation or that; how do other people feel? What do you see? If something strikes you, it’s usable material.

2. Record!

Write it down, ASAP. Those little things you notice must be recorded or they will vanish in the slipstream of life. Keep a writer’s notebook, either in a notebook or on your phone. Keep it with you all the time; make it easy to use. That notebook becomes a treasure chest of ideas – for whole novels or just a single paragraph, for characters or just the right word. For everything a writer needs.

3. Things to Watch For

– Words: Listen/watch for words you like; write them down, with their definitions.
– Names: Keep a list of possible character names, first and last. Names are everywhere – notice and record.
– Descriptions: Maybe you are watching the sunset and think of some pretty words to describe it. Write it down for later, for when you are writing that romantic sunset scene and need just the right description.
– Character traits: Pay attention to people. How they act, talk, look. Write down interesting traits so you can draw from them to create memorable, real characters.
– Emotions: Notice how you feel, how you react in different situations. Ray Bradbury said everything a writer needs is inside himself. YOU are your best source of material. In this way, your notebook can also be a sort of journal as you record feelings to draw from in your fiction.
– Situations/Problems: Story = conflict. If you think of or observe a conflicted situation, write it down. It might be the idea for a novel.
– Random Ideas: The writer mind is always churning. When a little or a big idea comes, write it down. This is the beginning of plotting/outlining.

Eugene Ionesco, the playwright, said, “A writer never has a vacation. For a writer’s life consists of either writing or thinking about writing.” As you train yourself to see the world as inspiration, the easier it will be to be inspired. You’ll have more ideas than you can write. You’ll have everything you need to succeed.

Do you keep a writer’s notebook? What tips can you share for capturing and using inspiration?

Teri Harman
Author of magic and wonder
Blood Moon, Black Moon (9/2014), Storm Moon (9/2015), A Painted Life (2015)
Blog: http://www.teriharman.com/
Goodreads: goodreads.com/TeriHarman
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