Lightning Strikes: From Whence Inspiration?

Phatman - Lightning on the Columbia River (by-sa)

By Ian Boggs from Astoria, US (Lightning on the Columbia River) [CC-BY-SA-2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

 

Sure, sure. You make your own inspiration and all that. You sit, you write, you create. I get that. It’s 90% of the equation.

But what about those moments that are unplanned? I know I’m not the only writer out there that’s found profundity in hot showers or strains of music (in fact, most of the WIP fell into my brain during a shower). There seem to be situations where my brain is prone to wander unseen pathways, where I make connections in stories that, on normal writing days, just don’t seem to happen. No, I don’t believe in Muses, but there is some curious power in the workings of our brains when it comes to creating stories out of nothingness.

When I was writing Rock RevivalI plugged into music. Every day. Not just my favorite bands, but bands I’d never heard of. Music that was the music of my characters. Phoenix, The Black Keys, Mumford and Sons, the Beatles, Fleetwood Mac, Queen, Tori Amos, Kate Bush, Neko Case. That’s just a slice. Driving around, in particular, seemed to dislodge whatever scene I was struggling with and bring about new characters and situations I hadn’t planned, so long as the music was blasting.

((Now, this is a life of a panster, I realize. There are those writers out there who have the talent (and, yeah, probably the discipline) to write outlines and stick to it. But my first drafts tend to be my outlines. Which is probably why I love the hell out of editing so much. It’s polishing.))

For Watcher of the Skies, the inspiration has been less predictable. Life has been less predictable. Instead of walking around with a lightning rod like I was able to do with Rock RevivalI’ve had to rely on the random moments. It hasn’t been music, this time, at all, that’s moved me to moments of writing epiphany  Instead, it’s been during sleepless nights, moments of stillness when I can’t convince my brain to rest, when Joss and his friends come out to play. It’s almost like listening to whispers in the next room. Maybe that’s weird, but like I was saying in my post yesterday, it’s as close as I get to real magic.

So my question for you out there. Are you the lightning rod sort? Or do you wait for inspiration? Or do you just make it happen regardless of the situation? What’s the weirdest place you’ve ever gotten inspiration from? And for those of you with lives/jobs/kids/responsibilities, what do you do when it strikes at inopportune times?

  • http://sprintingtofadeout.wordpress.com N.G. Davis

    I’ve never been able to force a good concept, but I find that reading a lot of varied nonfiction opens the door for them to hit me often.

    • http://nataniabarron.wordpress.com Natania

      Oh, totally. Some of the best books I’ve read on writing have had nothing to do with genre or fiction. Have you ever read A Natural History of the Senses by Diane Ackerman? http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/A_Natural_History_of_the_Senses — really awesome.

      • http://sprintingtofadeout.wordpress.com N.G. Davis

        Hmmm… might have to head on over to Amazon.

  • karengadient

    I don’t know which I am anymore. As you know, my first novel came straight from a mental dismay at life that sent me into escapism. The next was prompted by listening to music on the radio in the car… those characters dropped into my head and stuck around like the drugs they themselves take. The most recent book has a lead character introduced to me through senseless words in a spam email. My daily writing itself is driven by whatever dreams and nightmares rattle around my brain from the previous night’s sleep. Oh, and… well, coffee. But you knew that part. ;) The responsibilities and realities I’ll be facing this year might challenge me, but I intend to write whenever I can, even if it’s on a napkin while hiding in a closet!

    • http://nataniabarron.wordpress.com Natania

      Maybe that’s part of it. Maybe we’re just learning to sail our ships through the storm, as it were. Maybe it’s about our own evolution and our own openness to being a conduit…

  • karengadient

    Reblogged this on Karen Gadient and commented:
    On where the writing ‘magic’ comes from: a blog post from my dear friend Natania Barron.

  • Brigid Ashwood

    It’s funny because I do believe in Muses. I have them. Several. Both corporeal (friends) and ethereal (oogy woogy). Yet I love your blog about Muse Atheism because I can relate to it. I think what I don’t believe in is the meat bag myth that Muse’s do the work for you or give you your ideas or that the ideas that come from them are necessarily any good. (In fact the stories I’m currently writing feature the realm of the Muse and well, not all of them are very good at their jobs.) I think what you call inspiration I just personify into a Muse Being as my way of relating. I think this is because my experience with inspiration can be so different from project to project. They each have their own vibe for sure. It’s like the personalities of different people. I have my regular Muses. They are always there and reliable to get the job done. But I have new ones that pop up for different projects. Some of them are murderous villains and the inspiration is hard won with sleepless nights and aching shoulders. Others are a little nicer.

    • http://nataniabarron.wordpress.com Natania

      Yes. It’s more about learning to conjure the Muses at will, but also being open to hearing their voices.

  • http://andrewtoynbee.wordpress.com Andrew Toynbee

    My Muse (yes, I believe in her) doesn’t write for me – she just whispers hints in my ear as I write, causing me to swerve from the straight and obvious.
    Inspiration also reaches me from snatches of lyrics (recently the line ‘with this weight strapped around my feet’ inspired an entire novel about a murdered enemy of the mafia becoming a collector of souls upon the earth), or a news article on the radio. Hot showers and ahem…time upon the porcelain throne can also result in paragraphs, chapters or entire novels blossoming within my mind.

    • http://nataniabarron.wordpress.com Natania

      Showers. I think there’s some weird, wacky alchemy there. Because I do my best thinking there, too!

      • http://andrewtoynbee.wordpress.com Andrew Toynbee

        I’ve tried to analyse it over the years and concluded that if the body is forced to remain in one place (thus the porcelain throne connection) such as in a shower, the mind is then free to wander.

      • Brigid Ashwood

        Yep. Showers are magic. This is good for that. http://www.thinkgeek.com/product/ebba/

  • http://allenfiction.com David Allen

    I wish I could sit down and plot and plan stories. But it never works out that way for me. A lot of what I consider my best work has come about spontaneously (usually waking up from a really good dream). Carrying a small notebook has helped capture some ideas that would have been lost.

    • http://nataniabarron.wordpress.com Natania

      I need to be better about that. I’m terrible. I have this magic iPhone, but I never use it for the bits and pieces of writing that skitter across my brain all day long. Juggling two kids probably has a lot to do with it; I just don’t have enough hands.

  • http://mfennwrites.wordpress.com mfennvt

    I don’t believe in muses either. Maybe anthropomorphizing where the words come from works for some people, but I’ve never felt that, myself. The voices in my head are the characters trying to tell their story; at least, that’s how it feels to me. Inspiration, though, comes from everywhere. Music, movies, books, random remarks people make, movie credits, even (two of the characters in the novella coming out next month showed up because of the end credits of Christopher Lee’s Edgar Allan Poe series, of all things).

    • http://nataniabarron.wordpress.com Natania

      I wish I could brain scan myself while it happens. It’d be really intriguing. I’ve had lots of those moments where I run around shouting apropos of nothing. But I think we writers definitely have overactive brains. We’re constantly making connections to things!

      • http://mfennwrites.wordpress.com mfennvt

        I think you’re right. A brain scan would be interesting. Mine tend not to be shouting. More a “Message coming through. Hang on while I write this down” kind of thing.

        • http://nataniabarron.wordpress.com Natania

          I have lots of shouting. And creepy whispers, too. And images! God, I’m weird.

          • http://mfennwrites.wordpress.com mfennvt

            Nah, you’re a writer. :D

          • http://nataniabarron.wordpress.com Natania

            Yes, yes. I suppose that’s fair enough. :)

  • http://worddreams.wordpress.com Jacqui Murray

    It was one of those unplanned inspirations that made me believe in muses. OUt of nowhere, no personal experience, I found brilliance. A lot of writers claim they are not responsible for the strength and quality of their words–that they merely appeared as though a script. I thought that was humility until it happened (in a tiny does) to me.

    • http://nataniabarron.wordpress.com Natania

      It’s pretty awesome when it happens!

  • http://unconsciouswanderings.wordpress.com alisonmanson1

    Sometimes lightning just strikes me, but usually it’s a near miss that just gives me something to worry at and obsess about until it forms itself into a story. I like the shower for inspiration too but, weirdly, the toilet is where I do my best thinking – too much information, I know; but you did ask!

    • http://nataniabarron.wordpress.com Natania

      Hah! Well, I won’t say that I’ve never had inspiration there. But I’ve inspiration while cutting up a chicken carcass, so we’re all odd. :)

      • http://unconsciouswanderings.wordpress.com alisonmanson1

        Take it where you get it! :-)

        • http://nataniabarron.wordpress.com Natania

          Precisely. Don’t mess with the magic!

    • http://andrewtoynbee.wordpress.com Andrew Toynbee

      I had this discussion with a writer friend of mine – she was totally embarrassed about admitting that she got her best inspiration whilst seated on the pottery…but it does happen a lot!!