B&N Week 147: Where Do You Find Inspiration?

| October 15, 2013


We have another Tuesday before us! What am I doing with this day? I’m asking a simple question:

Where do you get your inspiration?

This is really a two-part question. I’m not just talking about story inspiration, but what inspires you to create, period?

I personally have several sources of inspiration. As a writer, I’m inspired by other stories told well, told in an unusual way, or that have an ending I wasn’t expecting. Not a twist, mind you, but just an outcome that isn’t telegraphed. [And I don’t care what most people think: the ending to The Sixth Sense was telegraphed. The ending to Inception, though, is ambiguous, and it fails because of it.]

As an editor, I’m inspired by good storytelling. My good friend John Lees is telling a story about a boy and his dog. Those stories you hear about editors getting out of the way and letting the creators do their thing? This is how I feel about John’s story: I’m there to keep him on point, to make sure the emotional content is there, and to make sure he sticks the landing, but for the most part, I’m staying out of his way. How does that inspire me? Because, for me, it speaks to what can be done with the medium.

There are times when there’s no inspiration, though. Or, better said, inspiration is difficult to find. Then you have to look outside of yourself in order to find that spark in order to create.

I was at SDCC one year, attending a Marvel panel. I heard Chris Claremont say that there are times when he has to find inspiration in the mortgage or the light bill. While it was humorous, and possibly true, there’s also something else to realize: as a working professional, he has the luxury of being able to find inspiration in that mortgage or bill. (Luxury, Steven?) Yes, luxury. He’s where we want to be: a working professional, literally living by his wits. Those of us trying to walk that path have to find inspiration elsewhere.

I don’t believe in writer’s block. I don’t believe in any kind of creative block at all. Writer’s block, or any kind of creative block, is a damned dirty lie. You’re not blocked. There is only one or two things standing in your way, but it isn’t a block. Not at all.

For the purpose of this column, I’m going to lump any type of creative block into writer’s block. Writer’s block, as a term, is extremely well known. Just know that I’m lumping it all into this term. (Okay. Got it.)

Writer’s block generally means one of two things: either you don’t want to do something because you’d rather work on something else, or you can’t see your way past a certain point. But writer’s block is a lie.

For writers, it’s coming up with an ending that justifies the story being told, or a nice turn of phrase in dialogue that will stick with a reader. For artists, it’s visualizing the panel or page without doing an homage or swiping. Inkers have to worry about their approach to the pencils. Colorists have to worry about the palette they’re going to use to heighten the story, and letterers have hundreds of fonts they can choose from, or they can create their own if they’re really good.

And all of that inspiration has to come from somewhere.

Everything old is new again. That’s a different way of saying that there’s nothing new under the sun. That new show, Ironside, about the wheelchair-bound detective? That’s a remake. The original starred Raymond Burr, who was famous for playing Perry Mason. I’m also reminded of another movie I love, Hitch, where Kevin James’ character asks a designer where he gets his ideas.

Inspiration takes a lot of work, my friends. Ideas don’t just come, fully formed, out of the blue. It’s one thing to think about time travel in a fanciful way, but unless you’ve been surrounding yourself with different types of input and stimuli, and have a happy accident in the bathroom, you’re not going to come up with the idea of the flux capacitor.

If you’re a commercial artist, you’re not going to come up with the blueprint for a different type of building or bridge—not unless you are trained in building/bridge building and blueprint making. If you’re a writer, you aren’t going to suddenly come up with an idea for particle physics—not unless you’re already a physicist.

Inspiration comes in the things you know or do. If you’re an inker but also a musician, you may come up with a new song while slinging some ink on a page. It happens. But it only happens when you’ve been working in something. That’s how it works. You don’t create a new mechanical arm without being a tinkerer of some kind first. Inspiration takes a lot of work.

How do you get inspired?

You absorb. You absorb lots of different things that fall within your bailiwick. Sometimes you even learn a process or something in order to make whatever it is you’re working on more feasible. You go right on absorbing and learning, and you do it forever. (That’s a long time!) I know, but inspiration does not come at a whim. Sometimes, it comes at very inopportune moments.

The next thing you have to do is create. (You create for inspiration?) Yes. You see, the brain is a muscle, and what you’re doing when you create is you are making new pathways for neurons to fire. The more pathways, the faster your brain can work, and the faster your brain can work, the better the chances of the happy accidents called inspiration can happen. But you have to create.

The third thing to do is wait. This is the hard part, because most of the time, we want it and we want it now. But inspiration takes time. All of that stimuli, absorption and learning has to have time to simmer. Like a good soup, the flavors need time to blend. Otherwise, it’s garbage in, garbage out. You want something new? Then you have to wait.

The thing about inspiration is this: it will not happen if you force it, and it will not happen if the minimal amounts of ingredients are not present. How do you know you have an idea for a new type of astromech if you don’t know anything about robotics or X-Wing fighters? Once you have the minimal amount of ingredients, inspiration will start to happen. But since you never know what you’re going to be inspired about, you’re never going to know what the minimal amounts of ingredients are.

Once inspiration hits, it is rarely fully-formed and ready to go. A lot of times, inspiration only serves as the motive spark to do more work. You’ll still have to learn something or research something [or several somethings] in order to bring forth your new idea.

And that’s all you were looking for in the first place.

Where do you get your inspiration? The answer to that is everywhere. You just have to be open to it. You can prepare yourself for it, but you can’t force it. Forcing it makes it move further away from you, and no one wants that.

And that’s all there is for this week. No homework, unless you just want to go out and start absorbing things that will help you later on.

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Category: Bolts & Nuts, Columns

About the Author ()

Steven is an editor/writer with such credits as Fallen Justice, the award nominated The Standard, and Bullet Time under his belt, as well as work published by DC Comics. Between he and his wife, there are 10 kids (!), so there is a lot of creativity all around him. Steven is also the editor in chief and co-creator of ComixTribe, whose mission statement is Creators Helping Creators Make Better Comics. If you're looking for editing, contact him at stevedforbes@gmail.com for rate inquiries.

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