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March 19, 2011

I hear that word, I see it, and can’t help but think of a couple other words: motivation and need. As writers, we need inspiration to write. Whether it’s a silly love story or a dark horror story, inspiration is the catalyst that makes the story work. It starts the story, ends the story, and keeps the story going. But this isn’t a post about inspiration in that sense, this is a post where I answer a question posed to me all the time: “where does your inspiration come from?”

I’ll be the first to say that this is a tough question because my easy response is to just say something like “well, I’m a writer, I’m inspired by writing”. That’s a horrible answer but it is true. As a writer, I just write. The ideas and inspiration come so naturally that to stop and pull it apart is sometimes a little strange for me. It’s probably like watching your favorite drummer drum. He (or she) sits down and plays. That is their skill and they do it. It happens.

Thankfully after thinking this over and over and deleting too many potential drafts of this post, I’ve decided perhaps my best way to explain inspiration for me is to show it…

I have a book coming out soon. It’s three stories. The second story is my personal favorite and odd as it may be, it is not a “real” horror story. Everything in this story can happen and maybe that’s why I like it so much… because scary things that can happen in real life are, well, scary. I’m a very observant person. I like details and I like to think beyond an event. So here is my thought and inspiration that started this story (titled The Second That Burns): I was watching a police chase show one night. I have a channel (channel 122) that plays a lot of them. I enjoy the shows and there was one where the bad guy sped through a red light. As he went through the red light a car went through the intersection green light and was hit by this speeder. Of course the show focused on the accident and what happened to the bad guy and how he was caught, etc. All of a sudden in the back of my mind, I imagined the camera panning to the innocent victim’s car that was just hit. What’s their story? Their life? The reason they were on that road? What would it be like to be in that position…

And there is the inspiration. A thought based on something I observed. That one minute of thinking had me scrambling for a pen and soon I created a man named Trevor. Trevor was hit and by all accounts he should have died in his accident but didn’t. Now to take this story even deeper, I was inspired to write it through the mindset of Trevor as he wished he would have died. Something so sudden and tragic and how his mind hasn’t healed yet…

That’s where I’ll stop with that example so I don’t ramble about a story.

But see what I did? I took a simple moment and turned it into inspiration. And that’s really what it comes down to as I said earlier–the driving force.

Here’s another example–this one is fun…

You see a flat tire on a car.

Okay, where’s your inspiration? Ready? Set… GO!


The horror writer in me sees the flat tire and imagines a town waking to find every tire on every vehicle has been slashed in the same pattern. As everyone talks about what to do now a large, black shadow moves in from the horizon…

The lovey-dovey writer in me sees a down on his luck guy driving down the road. He sees a woman staring at the flat tire and then kick it. He pulls over to help. The woman recently got out of a terrible relationship and all she wanted to do was get out of town and, as luck would have it, she gets a flat. The man approaches, they meet eyes, and…

The science fiction writer in me sees a man pull over with a flat. He presses a button on his dashboard and few seconds later a small object comes from the sky. Two hands come and they fix the tire. As they fix the tire with various mechanical squeaks and whirs, a robotic voice talks to the man in the car–telling him the weather, traffic, and the statistics of the Phillies starting pitchers (yes, in my sci-fi books, baseball exists….)

I’ll stop there again. And finish this post up. Inspiration is that flash of a second that you either grab or put aside until later. Us writers, we sometimes grab it without thinking and are knee-deep in a project before we realize what we’ve done. The inspiration is the story we have to tell… the reason why we carry a notebook everywhere we go… the reason why we drop our forks in the middle of dinner to run to jot a note… the reason why there’s sometimes more coffee than blood in our veins… and the reason why our pencils look like a dog had been snacking… and it’s the reason why we’re here–writing and reading–together, moving forward one step at a time, one day at a time, and one word at a time.

  1. Jason Coggins permalink
    March 16, 2011 1:01 am

    Damn, I like how your brain works! I also sincerely agree, spec fic in particular lends itself to walking around with the “What If” glasses on. Now, please tell us more about that large, black shadow moving in from the horizon … .

  2. March 19, 2011 4:55 am

    You’re almost right. Inspiration come from motivation. Teresa Amabile (business researcher) states that Motivation, knowledge (competence), and ability to think creatively (avoiding patterns, breaking rules, noticing interesting among ordinary) are the basic components of creativity. I guess inspiration is somewhere near it.

    Good luck in your creativity 🙂

  3. March 19, 2011 7:46 am

    This article has just flashed up on my computer. The science fiction me says a frustrated writer from Martianville is trying to use my network of friends to sell his undervalued stories.

    The musician in me says I have to get this to my avant-garde composer friend as the libretto of a surreal opera score based on my life.

    The romantic in me says next time I forget Valentine’s Day, then I’d better compose a damn good story as an excuse forgetting whoever it is I forgot that year.

    At least, that’s what I think you’re saying. Have I learnt my lesson teacher?

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