Yes, I am late this month. Honestly, this has been such a strange month for me that it's a wonder I remembered to do this at all.
I have a very large collection of books on writing. I've stopped buying them in the last five years or so, but they still fill several shelves and I pull out one or two now and then and just skim through them again. Sometimes it's good to have reinforcement of things that helped you understand the process of writing. I can get lazy sometimes. I can forget pieces that help me see the process clearer. And sometimes, like with The Writer's Journey by Vogler, I can see different ways to approach a new story. The Marshall Plan for Novel for Novel Writing was one of the best overall books for book writing that I've ever found.
I've written a few books on writing as well. Some people find them helpful and others do not. And that's where we come to inspiration.
You never know what's going to help fill in some blank in either your ability to write or in a specific story. You don't know when you look out at a sunset if you are going to suddenly imagine a person watching the sun go down a hundred years ago. A thousand years ago -- or ten thousand years from now. Writers see more than the real world around them; they imagine how it could have been and how it might be. We are visionaries, each in our own special way.
Sometimes inspiration lags. I've had the problem this month while I prepare outlines for NaNo. Last night a piece finally fell into place when I started thinking (for no obvious reason) about another story already published. My brain had made the link that I had not seen until I started looking at the name for one of the gods in this fantasy.
Inspiration is not something that can be controlled, but I have found that the more you use it, the more likely it is to come to your aid when you really need some help. I don't go chasing after every story idea that pops up. Ideas are easy; expanding them into plots takes a lot more work. Even so, letting ideas play around in my brain lets it kick out odd things now and then. Sometimes they don't look helpful at all. Why should I be thinking about characters in a book already published? I am not writing a sequel to it, after all. And yet, a moment later, there was a link to the overall structure and world building that I could adapt, and having done so -- I saw a wide new vision of how the book needed to go.
I've rarely been able to force inspiration, though. Either the story is ready to unfold (usually in an outline) or it's not. I don't leap into the work until I feel that I have a good grasp on what I have. Even then, an outline can suddenly slow and stop, as this last one had. I knew I was missing some key piece to the background.
Inspiration doesn't usually come from my own work, though. Reading everything helps. Nonfiction is my favorite place to find new ideas, but sometimes watching a show will help. Shows don't inspire me so much with plots, but characters and character interactions are sometimes helpful.
I am rarely inspired by real life, though. I know some writers enjoy 'people watching' but I find most people either boring or rude these days, and I can imagine both without having to see it in real life. That's also why a lot of television and movies don't inspire me, either. I am not looking for the same sort of stories that are often popular.
I think this is why 'searching for inspiration' doesn't always work for some writers. They look in places that are mundane, at least to them, or too well known. They'll read a favorite book they've read before or watch a favorite show -- and this might have helped in the past, but you can only dip into a certain well so many times.
For me, the best inspiration is often to learn new things. History can be adapted to a wide range of adventures and biography can inspire new characters. Science expands the reach of the world and religion brings new depth to cultures. A writer who isn't interested in learning anything new is stuck either getting their inspiration second hand from someone else's story (television, movies, games, etc.) or they add very little new material to what they have on hand.
Inspiration (like the muse that represents it) needs fed.
If you want to get to read about other writers, check out the Merry-Go-Round Blog Tour. Be sure to read tomorrow's post by Sharon Kemmerer