A Myth or a Gift from the Gods??
Apparently, when asked about how to become a writer, P G Wodehouse replied that you sit in front of the typewriter and curse a bit! Whilst probably not entirely productive, that does sound familiar and marginally more satisfying that staring at a blank sheet of paper hoping for some sort of inspiration.
|Photo by Patrick Fore on Unsplash
I’ve heard other writers speak about how they’ve experienced inspiration in the form of a ‘Gift from the Gods’, providing them with the idea for the perfect story. I’m sure that can happen, but I have to say that I’ve never experienced it. For me, whatever I get in the form of inspiration comes in one of two ways:-
1. The kernel of an idea which sets my mind on a certain track. It’s hard to say where that idea originates but it seldom comes complete and needs to be nurtured and developed.
2. The solution to a problem in a plot I’m working on which suddenly presents itself. For me, this often happens with the ending – I seldom know the ending when I start writing (and prefer not to) but one seems to present itself at just the right moment. I suppose that is a form of inspiration.
In either case these ‘thoughts’ tend to arrive at the most inopportune times – and quite often at night. I then struggle to remember them in the morning or, even if I do, they don’t seem half as good in the cold light of day! In order not to miss something, I keep a notebook beside the bed but even that isn’t fool proof as I sometimes struggle to read what I’ve scribbled in the dark – so perhaps I need a torch as well…?
Why do these ideas come at night? I don’t know, but other writers I’ve met say they’ve experienced the same. Perhaps it’s because something you’ve been working on is still in your mind and, when you relax, the subconscious takes over. I find that the important thing is not to force these ideas – I need to let them settle and work them through in my mind.
I think of it as being like a bird which has spotted a worm. It has to pull its prey out of the ground using as much force as is needed whilst being careful not to break it and thereby lose part of its supper!
But where does inspiration come from and how do you get it? I think it is true that it’s actually all around you, you just have to open up all your senses to find it – a chance remark, a picture, someone you meet – they can all provide that essential ‘spark’ for a story. With this in mind I keep an ideas book in which I jot down things which I think might be worth working on. It can be surprisingly productive but quite often I find that as the story develops the original idea gets lost along the way. This never troubles me unduly as after all, you can never see the spark which started the fire. By way of an example, my first book, Blood and Destiny, started out as a ghost story based on a team of archaeologists who find the grave of a young boy in a remote and lonely place. As I tried to write it the ghost of the boy seemed to take over the story – almost as if he was guiding my pen. There’s more about that on my website (www.chrisbishopauthor.com) under the heading of The Hand Which Guides The Pen but it was a rare and truly extraordinary experience and probably as close to ‘inspiration’ as I’ve ever come. It took two years for me to write that story - and there’s now no mention of those original archaeologists!
So, what if, like many writers, you’re struggling for inspiration; what can you do to get the creative juices flowing? Well, given all I’ve said so far, I’m not sure that I’m best qualified to offer advice but it might help to mention some of the tips I’ve been given over the years and found useful.
Firstly, for me, the hardest thing is to get myself started. It’s amazing how many things I can find to do to put off actually writing. The only way I’ve ever found of dealing with this is self-discipline – but it’s never easy. However, there are things which can help:-
· Know your creative time. For me this is always the morning before my mind becomes cluttered by all the daily ‘stuff’. Other writers I know can only start once the curtains are drawn and the candles lit. Of course, that’s all very well but work and family commitments may dictate any available ‘slot’ so it’s often a matter of adapting as best you can.
· Find a creative space - your ‘go to’ spot where you can focus on writing - or thinking about writing (surely an equally valid part of the process?) I treat this as like going to work and, being used to discipline in my former profession, find that setting myself deadlines and targets actually helps me to focus. I also allocate myself set hours albeit the routine will change depending on whether I’m drafting, researching or editing. Unfortunately, all this tends to fly in the face of seeing writers as ‘free spirited creatives’, but it works for me.
Having done all this, you still have to get something down on paper and many writers have their own special routines for that very purpose. I know some who start by carefully laying out everything on the desk, each item having its own special place. I suppose this follows the saying that a tidy desk means a tidy mind, but my workspace is usually a pile of books and notes – though I always know where everything is – (well, maybe not always!). I can’t begin without having a cup of coffee beside me and I always have to start by drafting what I’m proposing to write in long hand as I find this helps me to get my thoughts into some sort of order. There are many other examples of the ‘routines’ which writers follow and, however bizarre they may seem, I think they are important as they tell the brain that it’s time to be creative.
But what if the juices still don’t flow? Well, to overcome the dreaded writer’s block, I find that it sometimes helps to prime the pump – i.e. to just start writing. It doesn’t seem to matter what - (a lot of it will be discarded anyway).
The important thing then is that once you do get started you must eliminate unwanted distractions. So, close the door, switch off the phone and ignore social media and anything else that will take your mind off the job in hand. It takes time to get into a story so, once there, it’s best to stay put!
And the best advice I’ve ever given myself? Ignore the fridge! That can be like a magnet for me but I assure you, there are no good stories in there, only calories.
Finally, remember that inspiration is only a very small part of writing. It’s like a spark - you need to fan it and feed it before the flames will rise. I once heard that writing is 1% inspiration and 99% perspiration – and that certainly sounds about right for me!
Chris Bishop is the author of The Shadow of The Raven Series which is set in Anglo Saxon England at the time of Alfred the Great.
Book 1 Blood and Destiny and Book 2 The Warrior with the Pierced Heart are out now in paperback and ebook.
Book 3 The Final Reckoning will be published 27 June 2019
Find out more at
you can also follow Chris on Twitter @CBishop_author