I’m very pleased to announce that this week we are featuring a post from author Laurie McKay about where she finds inspiration to write.
One of the most common questions asked to writers is “What inspired you?” I never thought too much about inspiration until after I finished my first book and was asked that very question, but I wished I’d thought about it sooner. Now that I have a better understanding of what inspires me, I can tap into those resources when I get lost on a page or can’t figure out the next plot point of my work-in-progress. As such, here are a few of the places where I’ve found inspiration. May they inspire you as well.
1. STUDYING CRAFT
I own about fifty books about writing. Some of my favorites are the Writer’s Digest Collection: Beginnings, Middles, and Ends, Character and Viewpoint, Plot, etc. I find inspiration (and motivation) in studying writing, in learning more about craft, in discovering more about my strengths and weaknesses as a storyteller. Learning about writing – whether it be in a book, in an article, at a writing conference – makes me excited to write and gives me new ideas and techniques to do so.
2. FAVORITE STORIES
Analyzing stories – the parts I liked and the parts I didn’t – is inspiring.
One of my favorite movies (also one of the first books I ever read) was The Wizard of Oz. You know, a girl is transported via tornado from Kansas to the magical land of Oz, meets some friends, fights a witch, finds a wizard. Then she returns home with some shiny red shoes and a new perspective on everything.
But what do I like about The Wizard of Oz?
I like that a character from one world travels to a new one, that she’s a fish-out-of-water. I like that her dog, Toto, is along for the adventure. Honestly, I like that she has magic shoes.
So maybe in one of my stories my character should travel from one world to another? Maybe they should have an animal friend? Magic footware – why not?
In my book VILLAIN KEEPER my main character, Caden, travels from one world to another. His magnificient stallion, Sir Horace, comes with him. He doesn’t have magic shoes but he does have an enchanted coat.
That being said, my book is nothing like The Wizard of Oz. It takes place almost wholly in North Carolina, the characters are in foster care, and it’s a contemporary fantasy complete with dragons, magic, and middle school.
Also, I think it’s good to think about what I like and what I don’t like. Writing is subjective and hard work, and if there is one person who should truly love my story, it’s me.
There’s a part in my second book, QUEST MAKER, where my characters Caden and Brynne are being chased through a pitch-black hallway by a monstrous long-limbed villain who can crawl on the ceiling. Truth be told, that isn’t something I’ve personally experienced. But I imagine in that situation my heart would pound, my body shake, my breaths come out in rapid pants. In short, I’d be scared. And I know what it feels like to be scared.
It’s common advice to ‘write what you know’. I might have never fought a dragon, had a loved one assassinated, or been stranded in an alternate land far from home (all things that happen to my main character) – but I’ve had to fight and face my fears, I’ve lost loved ones, and I know what it feels like to be homesick.
These same feelings can be translated to my characters and the things they go through. They can inspire how my characters feel, act, and react.
I went to the NC Writer’s Conference at Wrightsville Beach a few years ago. The author – and I’m sorry I don’t remember her name – told the room when she was stuck and uninspired, she made herself write anyway. Oftentimes, when she’d look back at her work days later, she’d find the words she wrote in uninspired times were just as good or better than her words on days when the ideas and sentences seemed to flow.
That is some of the best writing advice I’ve gotten. Sometimes, I’ve seen this referred to as Permission to Write Badly. Write something. Anything. The plot, the writing, and the details can be tweaked later in rounds of revisions.
Now, when I’m stuck, when I can’t figure out where my story should go next or how my main character should proceed, one of the greatest wells for inspiration is in the physical act of writing (or typing in my case). If I can force myself to write something, anything, no matter how rough or horrible, I start getting ideas.
For example, I recently wrote a synopsis for a new story idea I’m working on. I had a vague idea of the plot, and I had written the first few chapters, but beyond that, I was stuck. It was just a fuzzy cloud of scenes and scenarios. Once I started punching keys, however, everything came into focus. I find when I allow myself to write and don’t get bogged down in things being perfect, or even good, ideas and inspiration follow.
On occasion, a nice cup of coffee on a cool morning makes writing a bit more enjoyable. What’s more inspirational that that?
Laurie McKay is an author and biology instructor who lives in Durham, NC. When she’s not working, she spends time with her family and her two elderly dogs. Her debut MG fantasy novel, VILLAIN KEEPER (The Last Dragon Charmer #1) and her second book QUEST MAKER (The Last Dragon Charmer #2) are available now. To learn more about her or to see pictures of her dogs (and her family) follow her at lauriemckay.net or on Twitter or Facebook. You can find her book at Goodreads, Indiebound, Amazon, BN, and wherever books are sold.