"Where do you get your inspiration?"
If there’s one question authors get asked over and over, it’s this one. I wish the answer were simple: “I’m inspired by sunsets!” or “I get all my inspiration from my best friend, Theresa!” or “I pull up a bucket of inspiration from my backyard well each morning!” But answer is usually more complicated. Simply put, my life inspires my work. But I write different kinds of books, and because I write and draw, I pull from different sources on a regular basis. Smile is a true story about my childhood dental experiences, inspired by real events—the main character is me, so I’m working with my memories. Drama was also inspired by real people in my life, as well as my love of theatre, but the story itself was made-up. The book I’m working on now, Sisters, is going back to my true life stories for inspiration.
Beyond that…I’m waiting for the next idea to hit me!
This is why writers have to constantly open their minds and their hearts. I read all kinds of books, the news, blogs, cookbooks. I watch movies. I walk around my city. I look at old photographs. I travel. I meet new people. I listen to music.
Sounds like procrastination, right? Not so! I never know when something is going to strike a chord, but I need to be ready when it does. I watch. I wait. I hope. I get glimmers of ideas, usually something visual.
Here’s an example: I see a picture of my friend’s kid on Facebook, wearing a Halloween costume, and think to myself, “Maybe I’ll work on a book about a kid wearing a skeleton costume someday.”
I might draw a few pictures, look up some reference, jot some notes down in my phone, but nothing comes together. That’s okay: I’ll file skeletons away for another day.
Another example: recently, I saw a cool news story on TV about kids from Afghanistan, who were forbidden from playing or listening to music while growing up under the Taliban regime, and are now living in America and learning to play music along with a high school orchestra. Awesome! I’d love to do a story about one of those kids, and their journey. Hmm, but I make graphic novels, and it’s really hard to convey the power and joy of music through visual art alone…I’ll shelve that idea. Maybe something will come out of it someday; maybe not. One final example, where inspiration did lead to something real: I was struggling with re-writing a camping scene in Sisters. I knew I had to convey certain information, and wanted the scene to be visual, funny, and a little bit epic. But what I had was a bunch of talking heads.
I’m reading a book about astronomy right now (Bill Bryson's A Short History of Nearly Everything), so I’ve had stars on the brain…and inspiration struck! I decided to send my characters on a star-gazing excursion, watching shooting stars and gazing at the cosmos while they had their conversation. So much better than my original talking heads!
The truth is…sometimes, I’m not inspired at all. Sometimes, I can sit and stare out my studio window for a week, waiting for inspiration to strike, and nothing happens. I don’t know what to draw, and I don’t feel like writing. But writers and artists need to learn to trust themselves.
If I’m patient, I know inspiration will come eventually.