It’s another Tuesday, which means it’s time for some more Bolts & Nuts! [Sorry, that’s all the introduction you’re going to get this week.]
This week, I wanted to talk about that thing we all require as creators: inspiration. Without it, we aren’t creators. We’re consumers, or worse, sit-arounders. Sit-arounders are those who sit around, saying they’re creating, but the only thing they’re creating are excuses about why they aren’t creating.
What they’re missing is inspiration.
Where does inspiration come from? It’s the same question as “where do you get your stories from?”, and really, it’s just as hard to answer.
I don’t have any answers here. Let me be perfectly clear. What I’m going to do, however, is try to give you some tools so that you can recognize inspiration when you see it, seize it, and make it into something you can use.
Inspiration can come from literally anywhere. I’ve told the story of being at SDCC one year, and listening to Chris Claremont say that when ideas aren’t coming, he finds inspiration in the mortgage or the light bill. That answer drew some laughs, but really, it isn’t a laughing matter. Sometimes, the juices just aren’t flowing, or if they are, they aren’t flowing into something you think you can use. When that happens, you have to stop, regroup, and come at it a different way.
As creators, we have a lot of stories to tell. Some of them clamor for more attention than others. Sometimes, that clamoring can get in the way of the story you’re trying to tell right now. I hate it when that happens. This week’s column is a perfect example: I wanted to write about something else, but it just wasn’t coming. I got pretty deep into two other columns, but just couldn’t bring them home. I was searching for inspiration in order to finish. What do I do instead? I start a third.
Another thing that Mr. Claremont hinted at but didn’t really state was about deadlines. Deadlines can be a great inspiration to people, especially writers. I do pretty decent work under the pressure of a deadline. Always have, even in school. [I once did an entire project on a Sunday—after having a couple of weeks to do it—and got an A+ on it.] The thing about deadlines, though, is that you have to hit it. A good editor will build in a buffer so that things aren’t actually due on the day of the deadline, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t hit the deadline given. Remember, others are counting on you to do your job within the allotted timeframe.
I don’t believe in “writer’s block.” I believe that there are other things getting in the way of the work you want to do, and that the work you want to do won’t come about until you get rid of the blockage, be it words or images. I don’t think that the well of creativity is ever really tapped. It’s like music: there are so many different sounds and so many different ways to arrange the sounds that there are an infinite number of possibilities out there. You just have to find them.
Where do I find inspiration? I don’t find it at all. Inspiration is all around me. All I have to do is look at something and do a very little bit of thinking, and then I’m off to the races.
Inspiration is all around you, if you know how to look at things. However, it takes many different forms, and as creators, we have to take in a lot of different input before we can start to have any meaningful output. [Huh? I don’t get it.] Well, let’s break it down.
Writers: In order to write something that is done well, is original, and is a story that could have only been told by you, you first have to do a shit-ton of reading. Read everything you can get your hands on: textbooks, romance novels, instruction manuals, maps, local legends, music, schematics, comics, magazines, newspapers, cereal boxes, cookbooks, fast food ingredients, history books, fiction and non-fiction, and more. It may seem like a lot, but that’s just the tip of the iceberg.
Then, watch things you’re passionate about, or have a faint interest in. I went to two Roman Catholic schools, one for middle school, and the other for my first two years of high school. I learned a lot of interesting things about the Bible. There is so much sex, treachery, incest, murder, and more than you really know what to do with. There are also a lot of mysteries in it. I loved watching Mysteries of the Bible on The History Channel. History’s Mysteries, stuff on war, and more. Animal Planet gets a nod, How It’s Made, UnWrapped, and more.
Then there are movies. I love a good black and white horror movie. I love a bad black and white horror movie. I love the Hammer horror films. I love horror films of the 80s and 90s. Give me a slasher flick any day of the week. Comedies? I don’t like stupid comedies, but I like satires and spoofs. Black Dynamite comes to mind, as does a classic such as Airplane!. I won’t watch a Will Ferrell movie, but I like Adam Sandler. Romance? I like those well enough. Dramas? I like those, too.
I seek out all of this stimuli, and it all falls into my head and swirls around for a while. Then, when the time is right, such as needing a new story, a new direction, or just having something different to say, I can look at an object for a few seconds, and then something starts coming to me.
So, really, inspiration is nothing more than stimulation. As a creator, you take in all this stimuli, letting it all bump up against each other, and then spit it out in interesting combinations. If someone were to tell me that they have “writer’s block,” I’d call them a damned dirty liar. I’d then tell them to go read a book, watch a movie or a show, or go for a walk around the block, looking at the birds, people they pass, the buildings. Get the juices flowing so they can sit down and do the work.
For artists, it’s both easier and more difficult. Artists have to interpret what the writer says, but since the writer isn’t writing a novel which talks about the folds in the curtain, the curtain length, the amount of sunlight that’s allowed through, and so on, the artist has to put all that information in themselves. It isn’t always easy. But artists, especially the good ones, have reference materials they can pull out to help. Guns, cars, vases, hands, military equipment, clothes for different timeframes, buildings, people—a good artist will have books and magazines for all of that, and possibly action figures, as well. For the artist, the most they may need inspiration for are character designs as well as the angle of the shot. New artists aren’t very comfortable with composition of shots, and new writers tend to think in only a few different types of shots, themselves. More experienced creators don’t have to worry so much about that.
Inkers have to find inspiration, too. They have to read the script, look at the pencils, and then decide how they’re going to approach the inking process. Pen or brush? If brush, dry or wet? How to approach spatter? How far to push objects into the fore-, middle-, or background? Should this look like metal or glass? Lots of decisions to make, most of which can only be made with inspiration.
Letterers have to find inspiration if the book they’re working on has a certain visual language that has to come across. Otherwise, basically the same fonts will be used over and over again. New fonts are created all the time, don’t get me wrong. Nate Piekos of Blambot gives fonts away every month, as well as creates pay fonts. However, if you look closely, you’ll find that if a particular letterer is used, the same font will be used in different titles over and over again, unless something special has to happen with the visual language of the book.
If a colorist is onboard, then they have to read the story and then decide on a palette to use. Get a feel for the colors that should go on the page. When the pages finally come in, then they have to look to see how to approach it. Will it be a more traditional look, or will it be a painted look? Will the colors need to be bold, or more soft and muted? Will this be for web or print?
Once you have your inspiration, you can do one of two things with it: you can ride the wave until you just can’t anymore, for whatever reason; or you can write yourself enough notes that you can recapture it once you’re able to get back to it. In this emerging age of always on, always connected, there is little use for a pen and paper these days. You can take notes on your phone by either typing or voice dictation, using either the default apps on it, or by downloading and installing different apps to do the job in a more robust way. (Evernote!) [If you have a smartphone, you can’t go too wrong with Evernote.]
Personally, I don’t think inspiration is hard to come by. Sometimes, creators may struggle with how to say something, but they should rarely struggle with finding something at all to say. Get stimulated! Let all of that stuff bounce around in your brain, getting acquainted with each other. See the world on a slant. See where that slant will lead you. You may be surprised where you find yourself.
Homework: Get stimulated! Grab a book, a magazine, four newspaper articles, and two television shows to watch. Stir it up, and let an idea pop out. See where that idea will lead you. Then duff, chair, work.