“Where do writers like you find their inspiration?” That’s what Dad asked me the other day, and it’s a question authors get asked often so, just in case you were wondering, here’s my take on it.
Many writers find inspiration in Real life
I know, it sounds trite, but it’s true. Real life is where I find most of my inspiration. I live by the adage “Write what you know”, and what do I know better than my own real life?
And honestly, there’s so much going on in my very mundane everyday life, it’s incredibly easy to find tons of inspiration there.
For starters, I’m a wheelchair user, which means I can put a character in a wheelchair and know exactly what I’m talking about. I know what people in a wheelchair can do — but I also know that I’m just one person in a wheelchair, and what I can and cannot do, is not the same as what my wheelchair using neighbours, can do. Because much depends on the reason why a person needs a wheelchair. I have Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome, the lovely lady next door has Spina Bifida, and her next-door neighbour has a Spinal Cord Injury. Our levels of disability vary greatly.
And, speaking of Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome (EDS)… that has so many different faces. Even within the same family, no one person with EDS has the same symptoms as another, and the severity of their condition may vary greatly, too. And then we haven’t even taken the several subtypes into consideration. My children and I have the hypermobile type, and though some of our symptoms are very similar, others are not. However, all three of us deal with chronic pain and fatigue. All three of us have unstable joints and mobility issues. And that’s where the similarities end. But you’d better believe I have little trouble writing a character who suffers from a connective tissue disease. (I did, in fact, create my very own connective tissue disease that resembles EDS, for my novel “Death and the Maiden”.)
Allergies. I have plenty of them and, though in real life they’re a pain in the behind, in fiction they’re always fun. Need a way to kill a character? A severe allergy might just be the answer!
My autism is another source of inspiration for me. The embarrassment when you’ve yet again done or said something that – apparently – was socially unacceptable. They hyper-sensitivity to all these internal and external stimuli others hardly even notice. Like, you can hear electrical currents, and they keep you awake at night. Or you put your clothes on inside out, because that way the seams won’t hurt your skin as much. All these little things. They make for lovely “quirks” in your characters. Or you can simply write autistic characters. I actually think the latter is far easier, because I understand these characters so much better than I could ever understand neurotypical characters.
Things I’ve been through
When you’ve been around for a while – let’s say a decade or six – you’ve experienced a thing or two. Some good, and some bad.
I broke an ankle, had some surgeries, lost some teeth, dislocated joints (EDS does that to people). I’ve stared death in the ugly face more times than I would like to remember. I’ve been in fist fights and lost. Always. So I took judo, jiu-jitsu and aikido classes, which was fun, but still didn’t miraculously turn me into a fighter.
I’ve been bullied relentlessly throughout all the years I was in school. I’ve been depressed to the point where suicide seemed like the only way out. (It wasn’t.)
I could go on for a while, but I won’t as this post is already getting too long.
The things I’ve seen
Write what you know doesn’t mean you can only write about your own experiences.
Most writers I know are avid people-watchers. It’s one of the best ways for writers to find inspiration. We may not be great at socialising (some writers are, others — like me — not so much), but almost all of us like to observe people. How do they walk, how do they talk? How do they move? Dress? Do they have mannerisms you could use in your writing? Could you use that overheard conversation?
But it goes even deeper than that. When we’ve witnessed someone dying (even if it’s “just” an animal), we know what that looks like. When we’ve known victims of domestic and/or sexual abuse, and we’ve taken the time to really listen to them — which means also (or maybe especially) listening to what they don’t say — we know how to write about it. When we have friends or relatives who suffer from a mental disorder (e.g. bipolar, schizophrenia, depression), we should be able to write about that.
The more we study people, the better we will be able to write realistic characters.
Where would we be without education? Frankly, without education, I wouldn’t even be able to spell, let alone write novels.
Having said that, there’s some things we will never know from personal experience or from witnessing them. That’s where education comes in. And I’m not just speaking of school. Education has many different faces.
It can come from stories (like the stories my mum told me about World War II), from films, plays, and other forms of entertainment. It can come from books – and I’m not just talking about non-fiction books, though those certainly play an important role here – from the internet. There certainly is some truth to the jokes about the search histories of authors. All the weird sh*t we look up! It can, at times, be quite embarrassing.
The news is a great place for writers to find inspiration
How could I forget? The news can be such an important source of inspiration! Where else did you think I got my idea of killing off entire royal houses? And what to think of Wars? Creepy religious cults? Ecenomic depressions? Pandemics?
These are all things we can — and probably should — use in our writing.
Even though I started writing Night’s Reign long before COVID hit, It’s also true that the news reports about the pandemic absolutely enriched those parts of my writing. Like Ecclesiastes said,
“What has been will be again, what has been done will be done again; there is nothing new under the sun.”Ecclesiastes 1:9
It’s all there. Use it.
Did I miss anything? Tell me in the comments or shoot me a message!