“What was the inspiration for this?”
That’s a question that I’m sure every writer – definitely every successful writer – has been asked about their work. It most likely extends to other creators as well, painters, musicians, screen writers, etc., but I’m more intimately familiar with novel writing.
This can be a frustrating question for a few different reasons. Mostly because it can be kind of hard to decipher what the asker wants to know and, generally, what they want to know isn’t all that interesting.
In my mind, I think there are two different kinds of inspiration. There may be more, but these two are the ones I have most easily identified. The first one is the one people generally ask about. It isn’t all that important or interesting, though. The person who wrote the thing often doesn’t care that much about it. The second type of inspiration is immensely important. It’s actually the only reason the book was finished, but no one outside of the writer typically cares about it.
The first type of inspiration, the question I think people most often are actually asking, is “Where did this idea come from? What was the inspiration behind the idea for this novel?”
The second type of inspiration, the far more valuable type, is the question: “When this book got hard, when you didn’t want to keep writing, when you thought of a million other things you’d rather do, what inspired you to keep writing it anyway?”
I can’t answer either of those questions for anyone else, but I can answer them for me, so I will. Even though it feels pretentious. I don’t have anything published, no one cares where my ideas came from, but as those are the only ideas I can talk about, I might as well.
Where Did the Idea Come From?
As I’ve said, this question, at least as far as I can ascertain from the countless hours of author interviews I’ve consumed, is an annoying question. Unless you specifically wrote a book in order to argue a particular point, it really doesn’t matter where your idea came from. You had the idea and that’s as deep as it goes.
Its also not that important because ideas are a dime a dozen. Almost everyone in the world at some point has said the words: “I have an idea for a book” or a movie or a play or whatever. Everyone has ideas. They can come from dreams, they can be rip offs of other stories, they can be your own personal story. Ideas are abundant. But the second type of inspiration is what separates the idea from it being a reality.
Of course, all of this is said with a massive caveat: the origin of some ideas is incredibly important. As I already said, if your novel is designed to prove a point or showcase an issue, then the idea to write about that is important. If your idea is your own personal story, of course that is important. But I think those are in the minority of stories told. I think most stories were born out of more mundane and vague ideas.
For example, almost all of my stories started with one question: “What if…?” It’s something random, a spark of a concept, and I asked What if this happened or this person existed. From that, a story emerged. But the actual idea that ignited that story wasn’t all that consequential. And, often, books contain more than one initial idea.
I’ll run down the initial inspiration for the stories listed on the Books section of this site:
The Incubator House – This one started because I heard of a real-life YouTube conspiracy. A British YouTuber (who I won’t name, but it’s not hard to find) started acting strange in her videos and her fans thought they were picking up clues that she was being held against her will. The last I heard, and I haven’t looked into it in a long time, she’s fine and it was all a misunderstanding, but I had the thought: “What if someone really was capturing YouTubers and forcing them to still make videos?”
The King’s Stone – I am a Christian and I wanted to write a story that was a gospel allegory. So I took a short story I wrote a long time ago and fleshed it out. I don’t even remember where the original story idea came from.
StarsinHerEyes02 – This actually might have been born out of the same YouTube conspiracy as the Incubator House. I basically asked the question: “What if someone was in danger and had to use a Spotify playlist to send clues and ask for help?” Don’t know why I asked that, but I did and this book was born.
The Collector – I’ve always enjoyed the thought that the reason we haven’t had alien contact is because we’re so unadvanced that aliens just aren’t interested in us. So I asked “What if Earth is completely galatically unimportant and aliens only come here for sport?”
Gates of Hades – “What if someone from our world had to deal with a completely flipped moral system?” That’s it.
I’ve had a thousand ideas like these that haven’t gotten written and some of them never will. The difference is the second type of inspiration.
What Inspires You to Keep Going?
When things get hard, what keeps you writing? For me, this happens around chapter 7-9. The early chapters are fun and exciting. I’m learning the characters and the world and enjoying the plot. But around chapter 7 or 9, I’m getting a bit bored of it. I know the characters, I know the world, I know how the plot will turn out. And I have so many other ideas that I want to get started on.
When that happens, what keeps me going? Basically, great art.
Whenever I see something that someone else has created that is amazing, it makes me want to create something as well. Seeing great art in almost any form makes me want to create something. I want to make something as cool as they’ve made and though I might never, I have to try.
Oddly, the medium of art that most inspires me is musical theater. I think its because it is a combination of so many different pieces of art. In musical theater, you have written words, song lyrics, music, choreography, costuming, stage design, acting, direction, and I’m sure a million other pieces coming together to create something wonderful. Its staggering and inspiring.
I thought of writing this post beacuse I watched Hamilton for the third time a few days ago and was awed again. It is one of the best pieces of art created in the last hundred years. Whenever I watch that show, I want to create something as great as it. I never will. Hamilton is on another level, but I have to try.
So what inspires you? What make you want to keep going when it gets hard? Let me know in the comments!