2020 – The Year Without Writing Inspiration
2021 is a year full of possibilities. I keep telling myself this over and over.
The pandemic caused me to pause my creative writing for a number of months. The reasons for the lull in my literary creativity are many, but I’d like to believe that most of them are under control or behind me at this point.
As I look for inspiration to jumpstart my writing and to ignite the fire to finish my next book, I decided to go back to those things that inspired me in the past.
I thought I would share these inspirational elements with you to help you find inspiration and invite you to share those things that inspire you to write when you have a lull in your creativity.
Here are the things that have worked for me:
When I’ve had difficulty finding inspiration for a story, I’ll sometimes skim the local, national and international headlines for stories that are unusual or that can be turned into something unusual. Of course, the current headlines often read like fiction.
One of the stories in my first short story collection, Random Tales, is called Heal Thyself. The idea came to me when I read a local new story about a man that is involved in a serious motorcycle injury on a particularly dangerous stretch of highway in my area of Florida. The story takes this story further. Although, like his real-life counterpart, the man winds up in the hospital with a grim prognosis, my character surprises his doctors by spontaneously healing from his injuries and he develops the ability to heal others. This seemingly positive development turns out to be a torturous situation for the man. I like these taking these real-life story ideas and adding a twist.
Have you done this? What kinds of news stories or current events have you turned into stories?
I have used writing prompts a couple of times. One of them, once again, became the basis for a short story which then became the cornerstone of a book of four related novellas, kongo.com. The story, No Pain, No Gain came from a prompt about making a New Year’s resolution that takes on an unexpected twist. I honestly don’t remember the source of the prompt.
I posted the story in serialized form, one chapter per week, on my blog and received a very positive response. The basic premise is the invention of a device worn on the wrist that, when activated, infuses the wearers body with nano-technology that induces the desire to exercise and eat healthy. The twist comes from the side effects experienced by some users and all of the intrigue surrounding their cover-up by a large, multi-national corporation called kongo.com (you know, a big river with a .com after it).
The other three stories in the collection are related novellas that all center around the corporation. It’s not something I planned on writing, but I was quite happy with the end-result.
How do you feel about prompts? Are they good for exercising your writing muscles? Can you develop a full story or novel from them? What are the best sources for prompts?
Pre-COVID, I was an extensive corporate traveler or a road warrior as the kids like to say. I would often jot down descriptions of places and people I saw in different cities around the USA. My trip to Italy a couple of years ago was the source of a great deal of inspiration for characters and locations.
One of my books, Blood Match, came from something that happened to me while traveling. I frequently found myself on the 5 AM flight through Atlanta from Jacksonville to some other large city in the U.S.A. I went from being a nervous flyer to someone that learned to sleep as soon as I was buckled into my sleep. I would nap for the hour and 30 minutes it took to board, taxi and fly to Atlanta.
One particularly drowsy Monday, I was settled in my seat and was rudely awakened by a passenger telling me I was in the wrong seat. Once I awoke, I realized he was right. The other two row mates were also settled and the passenger very kindly agreed to occupy my original seat and I promptly went back to sleep.
This by itself was not much of a story premise, but I added a twist. What if a government analyst working for a black ops organization was the one that sat in the wrong seat and what if, when they reached Atlanta, the passenger that agreed to swap seats wound up poisoned to death during the flight. This kicked off Blood Match and the rest of the book revolves around his adventures while on the run trying to figure out who to trust as he is framed for crimes he didn’t commit.
How do you weave observation into your writing?
Travel to unfamiliar locations can bring inspiration. The mood, the culture and the ambiance of a city or country can inspire an author to observe and write about that place. I’ve been ‘lucky’ enough to travel extensively for work to cities like Los Angeles, Chicago, New York, Albuquerque, Santa Fe, San Francisco and others. This has allowed me to use some of these locations as a backdrop for my books and stories.
My trip to Italy two years ago had a profound influence on my next book in the Frank Rozzani series. I had the opportunity to perform with a choir in some of the most historic churches across Italy and am working on a book that will bring Frank back to his Italian and Roman Catholic roots interwoven with a crime that will challenge him like none he has faced before. It’s an ambitious work and a lot of research and observation is going into it.
Other cities like New Orleans and Albuquerque have been the backdrop for some of my stories because I found those locations unique.
I have used tools like Google Street View and others to reinforce details about locations that I was not completely familiar with to the point where I’ve described landmarks and buildings with great detail that I have not physically visited.
How about you? What is the most exotic location you have used in your writing? How do you fill in the details?
Other Books/Entertainment (T.V. and Movies)
I have often said in interviews that my first book, Frankly Speaking, and the subsequent books in my Frank Rozzani series were influenced by shows such as The Rockford Files and books by authors like John D. MacDonald and A. Conan Doyle. I don’t view this as stealing ideas, I view it as innovating on a premise and the flattery of subtle imitation.
One of my later books, Extra Innings, mixes the fanaticism of a baseball fan with time travel. Sounds strange, but it was inspired after I read Stephen King’s 11/22/63, which uses time travel to propel the main character back in time to attempt to prevent the Kennedy assassination.
The main commonality between the two books is the underlying message, “be careful what you wish for”.
What books have inspired you? Are there movies or television shows that have sparked an idea for you?
You always hear the advice, write what you know. What do you know better than your own life experiences. Another story in my collection, Random Tales, titled August, 1963, centers around the racial discrimination and civil rights struggle of the 1960s. I was born in 1962 and one of my most vivid early memories was of the funeral of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. on television. I remember asking my mom why so many people turned out for his funeral and she said, “because he was a great man”. She said that I then asked, “Then, why did they kill him?”
We see some of the same parallels in today’s society and I wrote this story to commemorate the 50th anniversary of Dr. King’s “I Have a Dream” speech. It was a very personal story and it was very cathartic to write.
So, what personal life experience have you drawn from for your stories? Do you believe you should only write what you know or can you stretch yourself?
The questions within this post are designed to generate a discussion and to share ideas. I wanted to share what inspires me to write. I hope you find some use from this information.