The Two Kinds Of Inspiration

Please welcome freelance editor Cassandra Brown to WU.  Cassandra was a quarter-finalist in our search for an unpublished contributor, and we’re thrilled she’s agreed to share her post with us.  Enjoy!

How To Be Inspired

One of the most asked questions to authors is “Where do you come up with your ideas?”

For many writers, though, we have no idea.  But we want to tell readers something so we usually just say, “Life inspires me” or “My kids are my inspiration” or even every query-reader’s nightmare “God told me to write this book.”

The thing is, there are as many sources of inspiration as there are writers.

What is inspiration?

The dictionary defines inspiration as two things; the first being the process of being mentally stimulated to do or feel something, especially to do something creative.

If you break it down, the heart of this definition is that one must be mentally stimulated. That means sitting in front of a blank computer screen or in front of an empty page is going to do nothing for you.

So how can you be mentally stimulated?

It’s scientifically proven that walking stimulates the mind and so this is what I usually recommend doing if you feel stuck. Just walk, don’t fret over not having any ideas. Just listen to the birds, the crunch under your feet, the sounds of car driving by, the laughter of the kids running past you. Go visit a park and listen to the mothers talk about their lives. Visit your local library and see what books people are checking out. Look at what they look at on the computer. Listen to what the librarians chatter about. At the grocery store, listen to the sounds and notice the smells. Visit a restaurant and observe conversations and the various relationships.

If you can’t do anything else, read a book.  Don’t just read the words on the page though, really immerse yourself in it.  Imagine the characters, think about what the setting really looks like.  Try drawing it.   (Then send your drawing to the author, i’m sure they’d get a kick out of it.)

The most important thing I can recommend is to carry a notebook. Just a tiny one, with a tiny pen, or at least eyeliner and the back of a receipt. Most phones now allow you to keep notes, some even by voice for those times when you just can’t write fast enough. Some even have video.

When inspiration hits (and it will) you’ll want to be ready for it.

The drawing in of breath

The second definition is the drawing in of breath, an inhalation. Have you ever seen a creative-type person stop mid sentence and get that far away look? That’s an idea brewing. It may have been a word, a phrase, the way the light has come in the window, a memory, an ache in the leg, the taste of a bitten tongue, the itch of a scalp, the feel of satin or cotton or metal.

Whatever it is, it makes the person draw in a breath. There’s a pause there.

The idea may turn out to be nothing at all, but at least it was there. And where there is one, many are sure to follow.

I wish every writer many deep and fruitful breaths.

C.A. Marshall is a freelance editor, lit agent intern, YA writer, and loves to play with her dog Mollie. She dreams of one day owning a small house near the water, preferably in England, with a shelf full of books she has written and has helped others to write. She can be found in Emmett, MI and at



  1. says

    Walking–definitely. But SLEEP is the kicker for me. I can’t tell you how many times I wake up with an idea in my head–sometimes even a fully developed short story.

    I try to ignore my husband’s eye rolls when he finds me typing away at 5 O’Dark Thirty.

  2. says

    Why is it that the minute I get into the shower, inspiration joins me? (Just laughed as I read that one out of context!)

    Would someone please invent a water-proof write board for the shower!

  3. says

    Wow, EVERYTHING gives me inspiration. I find it best when I just sit and watch people in a public establishment… you know, places where all walks of life come in. I’m always baffled by human beings and find myself creating characters from peeps I see and then a story around them.
    PK Hrezo´s last blog post ..Stamp an R on my Forehead

  4. says

    “I wish every writer many deep and fruitful breaths.”

    I love that. :)

    I agree that walking is great stimulation for me. Actually in my daily life I tend to use both my commute and my daily dog-walks for brainstorming / working through plot issues. “Inspiration” for me usually comes from a feeling or a problem (not always in my own life) and then I spin out possibilities (not necessarily realities) from there.

    Also, I ADORE the voice memo feature on my phone. (On many Verizon phones I think it’s technically just recording a new “sound.”) :)
    Kristan Hoffman´s last blog post ..Viva Mexico cruise recap- part 2

  5. says

    I’m with Holly. For some reason, I get the best ideas in the shower. It’s so frustrating. I’m considering getting a waterproof notebook (available at most camping supply stores). Of course, if I turn to writing in the shower, I hate to think what will happen to my water bill.
    Megs´s last blog post ..Book Review of Leviathan

  6. says

    Holly & Megs, here’s your answer: dive slates. They’re what scuba divers use to write on underwater, they generally come with special pencils (or you can buy them separately), and you buy special cleaner to clean them when you’ve filled them up with your ideas. I LOVE mine. I use it all the time. But yes, it does make those showers rather long sometimes.

    And what’s up with that, anyway? Why do ideas come to us in the shower, of all places??
    Tracy Hahn-Burkett´s last blog post ..What Are the 3 Basic Types of Adoption Available to Prospective Parents in the US

  7. says

    To refill my ‘story idea locker’, I sit at the kitchen table with a note pad and play ‘what if?’ I let my mind go silly and playful and make quick notes on the crux of each idea. I fill a page or two then shut the notebook. The next day I open it and cross out the ones that are just too dumb. But, there are some left! These get played with more until one elbows out the rest and I am off on my next action/adventure saga. Woiks fur me.
    Alex Wilson´s last blog post ..Gnu Writer Seaks- The Magic Bullet