Sunday, May 26, 2013

How Much Inspiration Do You Need?

My essay last week on plotting vs. spontaneous writing generated a lot of debate online (See Plot vs. Pants). It also raised a deeper question for me about ideas and inspiration; how much inspiration does a writer need to start creating a novel?

In the Beginning
The start of my own creative process is a mental Frankenstein. It could start with from a book, movie or video game (See Bloody Inspiration Film, Graphic Novels and Books).  Then add in something that I haven’t seen that I’d like to create. Throw in a real world issue that catches my eye and season it with my own philosophical perspective. Bake for several days or weeks and presto…I’ve got my inspiration.  

For example, my next novel Smooth Operator is definitely a cobbled together concept. Books like Rain Fall and 100 Bullets inspired the tone and the characters. My own interest in corporate spy companies and new forms of organized crime channeled my focus. The tactics and world view of Robert Greene and Machiavelli rounded out the message to create the Life and Crimes of Warren Baker.

But I don’t start writing a novel with just an idea. I spend some time developing it into a story. I imagine the beginning, the middle and the end (actually, the process works better when I think up the end, the beginning and the middle). I look at the characters, including their motivations, conflicts and resources. I cut the story into acts, the acts into chapters and the chapters into beats. I get a feel for the genre, setting, time period and the duration of the story. If all the idea can remain viable after it goes through that plotting process, then I start writing my novel. If not, it goes into the idea file to be played with at a later date.

Are Six Words Enough?
Writers who plot might recognize some of their own method in the process I described. But what happens if a writer creates by the seat of their pants? Several writers have told me that they follow an idea and start writing to see where the idea takes them. How much of an idea gets them going? Is it a detailed nightmare or a recurring dream?  Is it a photo in a magazine or an overheard conversation? Is it a character imagined over time or a phrase as simple as a woman walks into a bar? I know ideas can’t be measured like pounds of chocolate or gallons of whiskey, but I am intrigued to find out if spontaneous writers have a threshold of inspiration that guides them to creativity.

Can you share your idea to writing process? If so, please feel free to share.

Have fun.



  1. Hi Gamal

    Inspiration comes from the smallest things, from watching a conversation in a coffee shop to a woman rushing out of the doors of a bank to a car darting in and out of traffic to an idea created from somewhere in the depths of my own mind, which probably came from some outside source that I just didn't notice at the time.

    Idea's percolate in my head for a spell before I put them on paper, so even though I don't have a 'plot' that's written down, things are going on in my head a mile a minute before I begin.

    Like you, I have a beginning, middle and end, but more of a beginning and end (the middle is kind of like walking into a fog - not sure what I'm going to encounter but the excitement of seeing what's in there pushes me forward).

    I wouldn't say that six words is enough for me for a novel length manuscript, but, during my writers group we do writing prompts that usually start with a sentence or picture or a few words (like ... six ;)) and away we go. We write for a half hour or so and it's great in the sense that it gives us practice in drawing inspiration from a particular source. Sometimes we start with a prompt and pass the paper around and we must continue the story from where the other person left off (now that is fun, challenging and sometimes the result is hillarious).

    Anyway, in my head there is enough there to begin and know which direction I'm going... BUT ... with that being said, my characters often hijack me in the middle of a thought and take me on a wild ride in a new direction (that's the panster in me) and I find after a night's worth (or a day, week...well, you get the idea) of writing I'm thinking 'where in the hell did that come from!'

    THAT is the most fun for me, knowing but, at the same time, not knowing.

  2. Thanks Pam. I'm coming to the conclusion that the basic difference between one who plots and one who doesn't is the decision of when to start. Your process and mine sound substantially similar. The major difference is your willingness to journey into that fog. I won't go until the sky clears up. ;-)