Writing Tips #1 – Inspiration

January 20th, 2011 · No Comments »

Throughout the year I’m going to be giving some hints and tips for stumped writers. Being published doesn’t mean I have any idea about what I’m doing but I refuse to let that fact get in my way. I’m good at making stuff up.

So, where to start?  I think for Part 1 we will start at the beginning. And the beginning is where you decide what to write about.

I remember as a kid I loved writing but the hardest bit was coming up with an idea. Sometimes I’d just go to mum and ask her to tell me what to write about. She’d say something like ‘Helicopters’, ‘Sea Monsters’, or ‘a child who takes his mother for granted’ (I think the last one had something to do with her being in the middle of doing the dishes after having spent most of the day preparing a massive meal for seven people). It was great having a starting point. The Ungrateful Flying Killer Squid perhaps wasn’t my best story, but at least I was writing. So my first bit of advice is to write about anything – pick up a magazine and flick to any page then write about the first thing you see. Come up with insane ideas. Some of the titles I have given students during school visits are: The Biro Wars– Blue Ink Vs Black Ink; The Miserable Adventures of an Obese Cactus; Hip Hop Spiders; The Man With an Umbrella for a Head.

Anything goes.

You don’t have to come up with an entire story and its plot to start writing. If you have a starting idea, you can just write and see what happens. Sometimes it is easier to just write than to sit there forcing yourself to have ideas. Thinking is hard but writing doesn’t have to be. When I write, often I stop thinking and I just react. Consider that you start with an action and then your characters react to that action. That reaction leads to another action, which leads to another reaction so on and so on. So, all you need is an action to get the ball rolling.

If you’re writing something longer than a short story, you’ll need something stronger than an insane idea to get you to the end. Writing a book takes a lot of effort and a LOT of rewriting, so you don’t want to get sick of your idea or your characters. Think of your book as a car and the idea as its engine– your engine has to be strong and keep you going for the entire distance. I can’t write a book unless I have some important connection with the story I’m trying to tell. So I look further afield. Because I write for children, a lot of my inspiration comes from my childhood.

Childhood. They say that the older you get, the sweeter your childhood seems but I remember being a kid and thinking things were pretty sweet at the time. I remember not wanting to grow up. I had people to take care of me and to worry about my wellbeing and all I had to do was enjoy living– it seemed like a pretty good deal. So my brothers and I got up to all sorts of things and I’m always inspired by those days of discovery and adventure. What crazy things have you done that could work well in a story? Chicken Stu was based largely on my exploits as a child.

The other thing that gives me lots of great inspiration is travel. I read so many great books as a kid about wild travels around the world. Travel in my mind always involved months at sea, searches for treasure, and long journeys into the unknown. Travel these days is incredibly easy and rarely involves pirates or monkeys, which is a shame BUT that doesn’t mean it isn’t exciting. Learning about new cultures, seeing bizarre things you normally wouldn’t … all these things are very inspiring plus I guess being on holidays always means you are relaxed and with your mind open ready for inspiring things to take root. So travel with a notebook and jot down ideas.

There are people everywhere! When it comes to creating characters I often use people I know as a basis. Sometimes it is not just an individual person, it could be a few people I’ve met who are similar in some fundamental way. Always though, the character by the time I’ve finished writing is their own person, usually far removed from the person I chose to base them on and featuring characteristics of lots of different people I know. I love this process of creating and discovering characters. By using people you know (or people you’ve seen while out and about) it helps you picture them and is especially good when it comes to writing dialogue.

So I guess the advice here is to steal. Steal as much as you can from your memory and the world around you. Even if you are writing a fantasy story, there should be some connection with our world and the relationships that exist within it.

And the other important piece of advice is to MIX & MATCH. Take stuff from your childhood, take stuff from your last holiday, borrow the crazy man you saw singing on the train, use the way your best friend laughs like a choking duck… your brain is filled with so many bits and pieces and these are the materials you have in which to build a story. The more experiences you allow yourself to have in life, the more materials you end up with. And don’t forget you can experience heaps from simply picking up a book or turning on the television although experiencing things first hand leaves a stronger impression on your mind.

And the final bit of advice is not to think about the end product when choosing an idea. What I mean by that is you can’t sit down and think I’m going to write the next big thing like Harry Potter or Twlight because no-one knows what the next big thing will be. Write something that you’d love to read. Entertain yourself first and if you do that well enough, the world will follow.

So endeth the lesson, which may be more of a random and contradictory rant … take what you want and leave the rest.

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