Inspiration is a peculiar and elusive concept for writers.
For most of us, it’s the reason we do what we do. We were “called” in some way or another to speak with the world through our written words.
And yet, inspiration can leave us cold and lonely, like a forgotten summer toy buried beneath a mound of December snow.
When the words stop flowing and the muse refuses to sing, it’s up to each of us to thaw that freeze and find new tales, wherever they may be hiding.
If you’re having trouble activating your imagination, try looking in these five unusual places for a burst of writing inspiration.
1. The grocery store
Not many experiences in life are more mundane than a trip to the supermarket. But you can turn that trek into a tremendous source of ideas if you’re willing to do a little people-watching.
Why is that middle-aged woman buying 24 boxes of kids’ cereal? Who is that distinguished older gentleman thumping on melons in the produce department — and why have you never seen him in the neighborhood before?
Every face in every aisle has a story to tell, if you’re paying attention. It’s up to you to uncover those tales and put them to paper.
2. Your kids’ toy box
Pop quiz: At what point in your life was your imagination at its peak?
Sadly, most of us were at our creative best when we were children, before the ho-hum of everyday life stunned our senses and blunted our originality.
You can regain some of those youthful thought processes by rummaging through your children’s toys and pretending that you have nothing else in the world to do other than play make-believe. Just be aware you might have some explaining to do if you get caught!
If you don’t have kids, check out the toy section of Amazon or any other online retailer and let your inner-child’s creativity run free.
Either way, it’s a candy store for your mind.
3. Your closet
Unless you’re a staunch minimalist, you have a closet (or two) full of clothes and baubles that you haven’t used in years. Heck, maybe you haven’t even seen them in years.
Those dusty old shoes and yellowed magazines lurking at the back of your closet are a treasure chest of plot lines just waiting for you to (re)discover. Why not spend a few minutes digging through your past to see what kinds of story ideas you can kindle?
You never know: Your best-selling novel might be lurking inside that grimy old cowboy hat that disappeared into the shadows long before number signs became hashtags.
This one may seem a bit macabre, but cemeteries offer a bottomless cup of story ideas if you know how to read them.
Step through the rusted wrought-iron gateway of any old graveyard, and opportunities for inspiration will swallow you whole.
From unusual names to spooky headstones to gnarled, twisted trees, there is nowhere to run to escape the pull of forgotten lives and eroded memories just waiting to be investigated.
5. Grandma’s photo albums
Every family has a grandmother or aunt who can bring any get-together to a screeching halt by whipping out her camera for an endless series of “candid” pictures.
We all dread her, and many of us go to great lengths to avoid her.
But as a sensitive, caring person, you might learn to appreciate those photos over time. More importantly, as a writer, you should be downright thankful for that overbearing shutterbug.
She has collected the images of a lifetime and stacked them neatly in albums for the sake of posterity, building a family history you will never find anywhere else.
There is a tale woven into the Kodachrome fabric of each of those faded faces, and every one is a chapter in the book of you.
What could be more inspirational than that?
Inspiration is individual
Not all of these ideas will appeal to you — in fact, it might be that none of them appeal to you. Writers come in all shapes and sizes, after all, and what works for me could be a complete dead end for you.
The point of talking about cemeteries and ten-gallon hats to find story concepts is not to say those devices will deliver surefire motivation for every author, but that we all need to actively cultivate our own models of inspiration.
It’s awesome when you’re walking down the street and the genesis for your next book sprouts into the middle of your brain, but you can’t count on that happening all the time.
Most of us would be better off watching the clouds and the businessmen and the lovers who share the world with us than turning all our attention inward when we’re fishing for ideas.
Inspiration is all around us, and, sometimes, the greatest bolt of lightning is smoldering under the next misshapen rock. You just need to turn it over.
What are some unusual spots you’ve found writing inspiration?