“Writing takes a combination of sophistication and innocence; it takes conscience, our belief that something is beautiful because it’s right. To be great, art has to point somewhere.” —Anne Lamott, Bird by Bird
Writing helps you find the lost pieces of yourself—those pieces that were misplaced, forgotten, or squashed long, long ago. Through words, we may carve a new path for ourselves or recapture the power to own who we are.
Writing brings intention. It is a permanent place to settle and explore who we are in this one tiny moment of eternity.
This guest post is by Jennifer Probst. Probst is the New York Times, USA Today, and Wall Street Journal bestselling author of sexy and erotic contemporary romance. Her book THE MARRIAGE BARGAIN was ranked #6 on Amazon’s Best Books for 2012, and spent 26 weeks on the New York Times’ bestseller list. Her work has been translated in over a dozen countries, sold over a million copies, and was nominated for a RITA award. She was dubbed a “romance phenom” by Kirkus Reviews.
To create on a daily basis and dedicate endless, precious time to making up stories, writers must have faith in themselves and the stories they are driven to tell. This career allows you to believe in magic, because though the work must be done—and it’s sometimes a brutal path—I have found my words often take me to a new level of expression and understanding. I can step back after the grueling process, read, and be struck by the wonder of such a gift.
Of course, this lasts only a short while. Then I’m back to picking it apart and judging. Still, a tiny piece of grace and brilliance balances those long periods of confusion and hopelessness.
But the real food for my soul is inspiration.
Where do you get your ideas?
Would you believe that’s the number one question writers are asked?
This question fascinates people. To take the kernel of an idea and allow it to grow and sprout within the pages of a book is a miracle. Without the seed of an idea, there is no book. Our all mighty, beloved, bitchy muse is the one who sifts through our potential writing inspirations to eventually cling fiercely to one idea and whisper, “This one is it. I must write this.”
My entire life has become an inspiration. If a creative artist is feeling flat and lifeless, inspiration is the food for the soul that will nourish and hydrate. If we lose our bit of magic, we may become wooden. A pale, robotic image of our best selves. We will scratch the surface and never unlock the rusty old cellar that contains our dreams and visions, and eventually, our greatness.
That’s creative death.
Writers must pay attention. You need to open up as life unfolds around you. This will keep you full of stories.
Here are some of the places I continuously find inspiration.
Reading in various genres will sometimes act as a springboard to the excitement you need to power your own work. I want to be that good, I think to myself as I read a brilliant passage from another author. I need to work harder to create such magnificence.
I love this quote from Kyra Davis, a New York Times bestselling author:
To be a truly successful writer you need to be a voracious and eclectic reader. If you’re writing romance and all you’re reading is romance, there’s a good chance you’re going to end up writing a romance that’s very similar in format, style, and tone to all the other romance novels out there. In a market this crowded, you can’t afford that. So pick up a Donna Tartt, an Anne Rice, a David Sedaris, an Elizabeth George, and any other book written by a respected author outside your genre and figure out what makes their books sing. Use that information as both inspiration, or even as a loose guide, for creating something very original within your specific area of fiction.
Movies and television have inspired some of my most passionate ideas. I decided to create the Billionaire Builders series because of my obsession with HGTV. Whether it’s House Hunters, Property Brothers, or Fixer Upper, I’m fascinated with the process of building and making things new. So I created the Pierce brothers and their family business, which has been passed on from one generation to the next, and they allow me to live in an HGTV world.
Television series have reached an all-new level. When I watch Game of Thrones or The Walking Dead, I’m able to break down how an episode is created with a specific character arc. It has also helped me study the way a powerful scene is developed. If you consider each hour installment as a chapter in your book, inspiration is rich in regards to character, motivation, growth arc, and themes. Next time you watch your favorite show, step back as a viewer and study the content like a writer.
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My past dating disasters and close female friendships inspired my Searching For series. I had so many terrible dates that I laughed about years and years later. The series became a way to relate to all the readers who had gone through similar experiences. Taking disasters and spinning them with humor is a way to reach people.
In my book, Everywhere and Every Way, my heroine is getting ready for her date with the hero and is trying to find a way to make sure she doesn’t sleep with him. She decides not to shave her legs as a way to curtail any intimate involvement. Imagine her horror when a kiss leads to more, and she realizes her mistake and is forced to confess her secret to the hero. I heard from many readers who identified with the scene, even though this famous feminine secret has now been outed.
Quotes from writing masters, religious leaders, or brilliant thinkers inspire me. If you’ve read any of my books, I always insert quotes that have made a difference in my life. Hearing words from someone else that strike a chord makes me feel part of a tribe, and therefore less alone. I’ve penned entire stories powered by the inspiration culled from a simple quote that struck me as a core belief of one potential hero or heroine.
When you hear a quote that inspires you, make sure to write it down in a journal or copy and paste it into a document that you go back to every now and again. You will be able to reference quotes that touch you for future blog posts, social media, and stories. I also use quotes to dig deeper into my character development. For instance, when I was creating my hero, Caleb, in Everywhere and Every Way, I picked a few quotes that would resonate with him. I did the same with his two brothers in the subsequent books, and the difference in what quotes affected them showed me the unique aspects of their personality.
People inspire me every day. If you are involved in any type of group, sit back and watch the dynamics. You can see the leaders rise to the occasion, the reserved stay in the background, the social chatterer who keeps things lively, and the academic who is usually serious and on point. Of course, these are exaggerations and stereotypes, but you will be able to witness how personality types can become characters, and then you’ll get a better idea of how to write their stories.
People’s stories are important in the world of writing. My favorites are the underdogs. I love hearing about up-and-coming wiz kids who create their own companies with only their intelligence and a belief in what they are building. The boxer, who keeps getting up and finally wins the big fight. The bullied kid from school who becomes a billionaire CEO. The poverty stricken, who triumph and then decide to give back. I am always pondering these brief newsflashes on morning programs, local news, and social media. They’re all stories in the making, as my muse sorts out the ones that will eventually stick, those that will appear on the page.
The rescue shelter I work with, Pets Alive, publicized a cry for help in social media featuring a beaten, abused pit bull whose back legs were paralyzed. The dog was about to be euthanized when workers from Pets Alive looked into his face and saw hope still burning bright in his eyes. Even with all the pain he’d been through, he held onto the goodness of people. The shelter decided to save him.
His story went viral. Robert was finally adopted and fitted with a special scooter so he could get around. His owner created his own Facebook page, Rockin’ Robert, and he has become a beloved public figure. Robert’s story inspired me, and I knew I needed to write about it. I incorporated his story into my book, Searching for Someday, as my heroine’s companion. I reached out to Robert’s owner to interview him and find out about Robert, so that I could write his story as factually as possible. The love between Robert and my heroine in the book became as important as the primary love story between my heroine and the hero. I mingled the two stories to create a far-reaching theme that left readers more thoroughly satisfied. When my hero succumbed to Robert’s charm, I knew the book had an extra layer that made all the difference.
I still receive e-mails regarding readers’ love for Robert, and many have posted on Robert’s Facebook page. Incorporating stories that inspire can help you write an extraordinary book.
The Internet can be very inspirational. Well, the good parts of the Internet—where there are lovely dog videos, people who rescue animals, real-life heroes who go out of their way to save others, and funny everyday people who want to make us happy—can be inspirational. These parts of the Internet remind me of the goodness in people and how one brave, kind act can topple a world that’s sometimes too dark. It reminds us what it is to be human.
Taking some time to explore new websites and read articles helps bring fresh information to your stories. When I was writing the Searching For series, I investigated dating sites and matchmaking agencies, and became familiar with the social parameters of Match, eHarmony, and Tinder. Research has never been easier! Most answers are at the tips of our fingers.
Music is a part of my soul and an integral part of my writing. I always listen to music when I write; certain theme songs resonate with me. I have created an entire novel based on one song that touches me deeply. Music is a passionate love in my life that goes hand-in-hand with my writing.
Many authors use playlists to set the mood of a book. In my self-published works, I’ve begun to include iTunes links at the back of my books so readers can easily purchase my playlist.
If you’re struggling with your manuscript, try changing the music. Listening to specific songs while writing a sex scene or a fight scene can bring a burst of energy. If you write in silence, you may want to experiment with background sounds that boost creativity. There are wonderful sites that play soothing background sounds such as rainfall.
Open your senses to all possibilities in order to bring richness to your writing. Inspiration is the fuel that drives us forward as writers.
Fan this fire, allow it to burn hot and bright within you, and your days will be filled with stories.
An Exercise: Write a list of everything that inspires you: people, books, movies, television, music, or any situation in your life. Anything and everything goes. Then study that list; allow yourself some precious time to ponder where you receive most of your inspiration. If you target something specific, make sure you honor your soul by giving yourself more of what inspires you.
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