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Inspiration

Recently, here and on some Livejournal blogs, I’ve been reading about people having trouble with ‘inspiration’. I’ve never had any problem with this, save that too many things attract my attention and ideas spin off from them. I’m never going to be able to use all of them and I have to pick and choose.

Over on Livejournal, someone was suggesting writing ideas down and putting them in an envelope to be opened in a ‘inspiration emergency’ when you can’t think of anything to write.  Actually I do write things down – not in any sequential or ordered way, but on backs of envelopes, odd bits of paper, a couple of notebooks and a file on my PC depending on where I am and what writing implements I have with me when I get the idea (in an emergency I just text myself the idea and check my mobile later…). It might be a character, a situation, a hook line, a title… The problem is there’s often so much stuff coming up that I never get round to working back through more than 1% of my notes.

Insofar as this is a ‘problem’, I blame a workshop I went to a few years back. It was run by someone who wrote for TV soaps, who said he’d often suffered writer’s block. But, he went on to say, think of what the word ‘inspiration’ means. One definition is ‘drawing breath’. And if you can breathe, you can have an idea. You can start anywhere, literally anywhere, and let your mind take you away. This is of course somewhat similar to the now-famous ‘oblique strategies’ devised by Brian Eno and Peter Schmidt, a set of cryptic comments where the idea is that thinking about them frees up the mind to imagine new things, or new ways of doing things, or whatever.

(Actually it might be fun to take a situation and have a character use oblique strategies to negotiate a way through it, much as Luke Rhinehart’s protagonist did with dice in his 1971 ‘Dice Man’. How’s that for instant inspiration? There also used to be a game on the BBC writers’ website, when it existed, that offered you tarot cards for protagonist character, situation and resolution, or something along those lines. While I think of it, the old BBC Getwriting site seems to have been recreated as a standalone called MoreWriting, and there’s still a writers’ community there.)

The other side of inspiration is of course developing an idea. Here I’d have to say that one’s own character comes into play. Firstly, for me, in terms of what grabs my attention (example: immediate problem, write a Personal Development Plan template for use with distance learning). Secondly, in  terms of where my natural inclinations wander (example: immediate thought, how would a serial killer fill out a personal development plan? Would they see serial killing as a craft, a vocation, something that requires training and acquisition of new skills to build up to?). Your milage may vary: a similar situation could be developed as horror, science fiction, romantic comedy or whatever – presumably not with a serial killer protagonist if it was a romantic comedy, but there you go, it could be an interesting set of possibilities… oh, and your oblique strategy for the day, should you care to use it, is ‘breathe more deeply’.

I’ll sign off with the to-do list i just found on my desk, no explanation or context, just the headline items: marking, craft fair, timetable, car hire, chainsaw. I can see these items as relating to horror, but also a romantic comedy. I’m not exactly known for writing romantic comedy but you never know, I think I’ve just set myself a challenge.

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