Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Inspiration Redux

First of all, thanks to Sarah for swapping days with me. This past weekend was an interesting one, and not in the proverbial way. My mother and I made our way through the always ongoing construction on I-35, carefully avoiding the wrecked tanker trucks and the inevitable multi-car pileup in the backup from the wreck to Wichita, KS. Now why, you might ask, would we do that. Well, simply put, it was our cousin's 90th birthday and a grander lady doesn't exist -- at least not in my mind. So we spent Saturday and part of Sunday with family, having what can only be called a mini-family reunion.

As is usually the case whenever this side of my family gets together, talk often turns to the various parts of the publishing industry. My great-grandfather ran a newspaper in Colorado. My great-uncle was, at one time, the youngest lin0type operator in Kansas. His brother did a stint as a reporter. One of my cousins is a printer -- rather, he was, but he's been outsourced and now works in another industry since he can't find another printing job. Another cousin is published in academic presses. And then there's me. One pro sale. Several short stories out making the rounds now. A couple of novels on submission at various publishers. And an anxious eye cast at my email account, waiting to hear from someone, anyone and trying to tell myself to forget about my babies until they come home or I get that wonderful message saying they've been bought.

As you can probably guess, some of us started talking about writing: why we do it, what we want from it, etc. And we discovered one thing. We've always written. Not all of us have wanted to be writers, but we've always felt that need to write. Some of us do stream of consciousness writing. Putting pen to page and just letting the words flow. For the most part, these are the ones who are journal-keepers. They have the need to write, but not the motivation or desire to let anyone else see it. Then there are others who want to be writers but are too scared or not confident enough in their own ability to ever let anyone save a few close friends/family members see what they've written. Then there's me -- I used to fall into the last group. But what makes me different from some of the others in my family isn't that I'm stubborn. If you look stubborn up in the dictionary, you'll see that side of my family pictured. No, what makes me different is that I finally gave in and let someone outside of the family see what I'd written and she took me under her wing -- Sarah, quit squirming. She -- along with Kate, Dave and a couple of others -- have given me the courage to believe in myself, something I appreciate more than they can ever know.

Okay, back to the weekend. We started talking about what inspires us to write. What is inspiration vs. motivation in writing? That's something I really hadn't thought too much about. So, being me, I spent much of the six hour drive home doing just that. And had inspiration hit me smack in the face as a result. Fortunately, I wasn't driving at the time or things could have gotten messy.

For those of you not familiar with I-35 in Oklahoma, there's a stretch of road south of Oklahoma City that is still more ranch and farm land than city or town. You can go for miles seeing only outbuildings and cattle and horses. Trees -- some birch, oak, elm, and pine -- dot the fields and line the sides of the road. And that is where inspiration hit.

Mile after mile of bare trees and lush evergreens showed some of the oddest damage. Upper limbs were broken and scatted around on the ground. Some hung from threads higher up. Others had fallen with such force that they were impaled in the ground. But unlike damage from tornadoes or high wind, these limbs looked as if they'd simply snapped and fallen straight down. Almost as if someone or something had stepped on them, realizing after causing the initial damage that something sharp was sticking them and moving away before demolishing the rest of the tree. I wish it hadn't been raining so I could have gotten a photo.

Intellectually, I know the damage is from the snow and ice the area has had this winter. But my writer's imagination began running wild. What could have caused the damage? Was it an alien machine, ala War of the Worlds, moving through the unpopulated areas, setting up bases in preparation to attack? Perhaps it was the Trickster from Native American legend, playing his mind games with me. Maybe giants actually roam the land through there and that's why more people haven't developed the area.

Well, you see how it went. From those few minutes looking at the scenery around me, I have the start of a new story. I'm not sure yet how it will finally manifest itself, but it's there. So where do you find inspiration? What's the strangest thing that's inspired you? What's the difference between inspiration and motivation in writing?

34 comments:

C Kelsey said...

Inspiration is that little seed that germinates into a story that engages your mind. Motivation is that something extra that makes you want to write the story out and share it with others.

I get inspiration all the time from almost anywhere. Books I'm reading, things I've seen, dreams I've had. Perhaps even just feelings that other books have inspired in me.

Motivation to write out those inspirations is rather more rare. I don't know what kicks it off. What I do know is that I've always written. I've been writing stories in one form or another from the moment I first learned the basics of writing.

Sarah A. Hoyt said...

my inspiration is rarely that straight forward unless it's for a short story, but I often get afflicted with characters. Kind of like Hogfather where words spark a new god? yeah, like that. For instance, Robert and I were discussing fashion design and centaurs, (Like everyone doesn't!) and suddenly I had this fashion designer centaur, prancing onto my mind on gold-lacquered hooves, trying to organize a fashion show and going nuts.

Amanda Green said...

Chris, I think that is how it is with most of us. That said, there is always that one thing we've seen or smelled or heard or even just imagined that seems to call to us more than anything else at the time. That's what those trees seemed to do to me this past weekend.

There are two visual memories that continue to stay with me and influence my writing in ways I'm still discovering. The first comes from when I was very young -- maybe three or four. It was one of those nights when you're put to bed and told to get to sleep and instead you sneak out and watch that scary show your parents know better than to let you see. In this case, it was an Alfred Hitchcock episode. The wife and her lover killed her husband, cutting off his hands in the process. But the hands kept coming back. They crawled up the bed and strangled her. They got out of their box and crawled over the drivers seat to strangle the boyfriend. Very creepy for my young mind and it's stayed with me. That sort of feeling is what I try -- in vain so far -- to get in certain of my stories.

The other is the movie Day of the Triffids. That's another one that left such an impression with me that I try to get that feeling of fear, of "omg, what am I going to do? The world has changed overnight and we might not survive". The book, which I read years later, does the same thing.

As for motivation, that's simple. I'm a stubborn woman and this is my way of proving to certain folks that I can, too, do it -- "it" being writing and having it published. Oh, and as additional motivation, that sharp-toed boot Sarah keeps aimed at my rear is good too. ;-p

Amanda Green said...

Sarah, I'd think you were joking but I've met your family. I know what kinds of conversations you guys have. You live with inspiration -- not always good inspiration -- on a daily basis. Who else has cats who think themselves hats, sons who have imaginations that are, in all honesty, strange and frightening and wonderful all at the same time. And then there are those characters who live in your head...well, we won't discuss them. You have proposals to finish and I don't want to stir them up enough that they demand to come out and play. [VBG]

C Kelsey said...

Amanda,

When I was ~5 my parents brought home ET on VHS and watched it while I was supposed to be in bed. I snuck out and watched a few scenes before they caught me. For some reason the scene where ET takes the clay balls and creates a solar system to point our where he comes from scared the heck out of my mind. To this day I hate that movie and I don't like little gray aliens (with or without pants). :)

Anonymous said...

Most of the time, my stories start with a cool scene envisioned. Then I have to develop a story around it to support it. Rarely, it's started with a character, but that's only been once or twice. And also rarely, it's been a concept.

A plot or full blown, overall story arc rarely starts my stories. I've never really had a problem summarizing my stories in one sentence because I just go back to the beginning germ of the story. It's usually very small and my challenge has always been to expand. Only once or twice have I had to cut words because it was just too lengthy.

Linda

matapam said...

Inspiration. Observing people. Especially when the world is odd around you.

We flew one Thanksgiving to El Paso to visit the in-laws. Six inches of snow later, we're trapped in the Airport with some really interesting fellow flyers.

Miss Podunk County, flying to Austin for the Miss Texas pageant.

Talk about an eye opener! There were four young women, obviously wearing "This will save your face from the horrible elements" type of makeup. Never did figure out which one was Miss Podunk. None of them lifted a finger to do squat. A dozen matrons, of the formerly-beautiful-and-still-damn-good-looking-even-if-the-effort-is-starting-to-show variety where whizzing around organizing _everything_. They had balloons and flowers. Big plastic garbage bags full of _shoes_. Hangers full of clothes. Obviously they were taking no chances of arriving at the Miss Texas contest without the wardrobe.

When we finally loaded a plane, they were running up and down the aisle looking for places to stuff the bags of shoes. We had three seats, for husband, wife, two year old and baby. I swear they stopped and eyed our foot space like they were going to ask to shove their stuff in with the diaper bag and carry on luggage.

So, I was discussing the Romance Trope that the plump heroine had to slim down by the end of the book. I declared that I was going to write a Fat Chick and she wasn't going to lose weight, the Hero had to fall for her, thunder thighs and all. And further more, she had an older sister who was a beauty queen.

Flash back to that plane trip. Oh yes. What better group to be hijacked by space pirates?

That was the most obvious and straightforward inspiration I can think of. The rest is much more obscure.

Amanda Green said...

Chris, the part of ET that bothered me the most was when the government scientists swooped down and tented everything. I knew they were going to dissect ET. Isn't it amazing how these things stick with us? So, my question is, how do you take the emotions and reactions you had to that scene and use it in a story?

Amanda Green said...

Linda, I wish I could sum up some of my work in just a line or two. That is usually one of the hardest things I have to do.

For novels, I usually have the main character in my head before the plot really develops. Short stories are just the opposite. I know the basic story and then have to figure out who to use to relate it and how.

C Kelsey said...

Amanda,

I don't know how I could use those emotions in a story, yet. I'll let you know when I try it. I have to finish "Pants" at some point, right? Just as soon as I'm satisfied with my UF story and it's in a form that will allow me to start sending it out. :)

Amanda Green said...

Matapam, I am sooooo glad I wasn't on that flight with you. And yes, there is no better group to be hijacked by a group of space pirates. Of course, with my luck, it would turn into a Ransom of Red Chief and they'd give the beauty queens back.

And you're right. Airports are great places to see all sorts of humanity -- and, at times, some folks I'm not quite sure are human. Here's to all the foibles and oddities people have and don't recognize or just don't care if they show the world!

matapam said...

Well, the Good Guys did win, after all. And captured three space ships and the pirate base. It was my first solo novel, and I might have gotten a bit carried away.

Even at the time, it was too entertaining to miss. It's given me an excellent method for (mentally) coping with irritating people.

Rowena Cory Daniells said...

Amanda,

I find trains are amazing places, especially outside of peak hour when people aren't so crowded. I've heard the most amazing stories from people. At other time I've overheard things that just stick with me.

I guess I find people fascinating.

As for motivation to write. I start to get antsy if I don't. (Do they use 'antsy' in the US? It means restless).

Matapam, beauty pageants are scary things.

Jim McCoy said...

Inspiration comes from the things in your life and the things that you've read, movies you've seen, etc. I never really realized this until I took a writing class, but a lot of my writing has a father and son theme to it. The teacher pointed it out. I was really close to my father until he passed about 12 years ago, and I guess that just stuck.
Motivation can be the hard part for me, especially since I have so little time. It's weird though, because when I do have time, thoughts just begin to flow. I actually got in trouble in one of my classes once for writing. We were taking a mid-term and the prof gave us an article to read. I was one of the first people done with the exam, and I read quickly, so I just flipped the paper over and started writing a story on the back. She was a wee bit unhappy when she saw that I wasn't doing what I was supposed to do. I guess I should feel bad, but that story looks like it's gonna turn into a novel. Oh well. So I guess my motivation is boredom. If I can't find something to do I write. I love to tell stories, so that's what I do.

Rowena Cory Daniells said...

Jim, you said if you can't find something to read, you write.

I'm the same. My first books were written when I had my secondhand book shop and I'd read everything I wanted to and was desperate for more books to read!

And I was always finishing exams early. Sigh.

Amanda Green said...

Chris, yes, you do have to finish Pants. That poor alien has been running around quite long enough without pants on. It's a miracle he hasn't caught cold yet ;-)

Amanda Green said...

But, Matapam, did the good guys really win if they got the beauty queens and their entourage back?

Amanda Green said...

Rowena, I'd forgotten how much fun trains can be when it comes to people watching and the conversations you can have and can overhear. We're just now getting commuter trains in the Dallas-Fort Worth area. Heck, mass transit is still viewed with a jaundiced eye here. But I remember fondly traveling through parts of Europe and Eastern Europe by train and have to admit I did a lot of writing -- badly back then -- while on the train.

Amanda Green said...

Jim, been there and done that. Back in school, I wrote or drew on every clean surface I could. And I think it's wonderful you had the sort of relationship with your dad that it does influence your writing. Motivation always does seem to be the hardest part of writing -- at least for me. But having good writing and critique partners who aren't afraid to push me and kick my rear when needed has helped, a lot.

Chris McMahon said...

They often seem to be the same thing for me. That initial inspiration remains the core of the story and the thing that I return to to get the story back on track - to return to the 'feel' of the initial inception or the core concept (if its SF). So in that way I guess the inspiration is what inspires me.

I guess though you can also motivate yourself with the conventional sort of goal setting. Setting a targe to say - finish a novel by December - and do a chapter a month. In that case I guess motivation and inspiration could both work together in different levels to get you going.

I know exactly what you are talking about though. I have had many experiences like that, getting some weird idea looking out at the countryside, or reading some odd snippet of science. I guess there is no hope for us, huh? :)

Amanda Green said...

Chris, in this case, I'm glad there's no hope. Just this last week, two books have given me ideas, inspiration if you will, for stories. The first is Travis Taylor's An Introduction to Planetary Defense. The second is by Dr. Les Johnson et al - Living off the Land in Space:Green Roads to the Cosmos. I can't wait to sit down and figure out where this latest germ of an idea will lead me.

matapam said...

No, no, Amanda! It's the beauty queens and the fat little sister that did the winning. I allowed a few males to do the heavy lifting when things got physical, but it was all girly heroics apart from that. (Why, yes, this is the one that was rejected for light weight treatment of heavy subjects.)

Amanda Green said...

Matapam, whew! You had me worried. And damn those editors for not recognizing the truth of what you were writing.

Kate said...

Inspiration - anything and everything, often all at the same time. You haven't lived until you've had the SFF equivalent of the Blazing Saddles end-of-movie-brawl in your head all the time.

Then Sarah says something about someone organize a demonstration on behalf of the rights of undead voters and I have a flash piece and no idea what the heck I'm going to do with it.

Motivation... Basically my characters nag me until I do what they want. I write because I can't not. I write specific things because it's the only way to shut that particular set of characters up.

Chris McMahon said...

Hey, Amanda. I'll check out those books:)

C Kelsey said...

This is slightly off topic, but I'm currently reading Travis S Taylor's "The Science Behind the Secret".

I had lunch with Doc Travis when he was contemplating this book. It's not science. In fact depending on who you talk to it's pretty hokey. But Doc knew all this going in. He's generated an entertaining little book on the premise that the people who developed the New Age concept of "The Secret" are really talking about the possibility that the human brain is, in fact, a quantum computer. Doc makes no claims to it being "fact". But it is already (to my frustration) causing me to develop a world where the quantum connectedness of the universe -- and the human brain's ability to control this -- means that prior to the acendency of science, magic was real. It was real because out quantum entangled brains made it real. Inspiration. Luckily, my current short story is overriding the motivation aspect... for now.

Stephen Simmons said...

matapam -- beauty pageants ... have you read Laumer's "Retief and the Pangalactic Pageant of Pulchritude", by any chance?

Inspiration for me comes from the oddest places. The first story I sold was entirely inspired by mis-hearing something someone said at work. The one I just sold this week came from an off-hand wisecrack I made to a co-worker I tolerate but don't really care for all that much. Back when I was still on active duty, I wrote three verses of parody lyrics to "Janie's Got a Gun" about the mechanic who tried to use the shipboard laboratory hotplate to make hot chocolate and ended up destroying several thousand dollars worth of analytical equipment ...

Motivation? That can be a lot harder to come by. That's filling in all the gaps between the sparkly bits, as Sarah pointed out back on "your" day.

Amanda Green said...

Now, Kate, Sarah swears she didn't infect you with that story. Besides, there have been many times you've infected me. But that, too, is Sarah's fault -- just like all the voices are ;-p

Amanda Green said...

Chris Mac, Doc Travis' other book The Science Behind the Secret is in my tbr pile. From everything I've heard, it's another you might want to consider looking at. Check webscriptions for the ebook download.

ChrisK, you beat me to recommending Doc Travis' other book. Strange minds think alike, I guess [VBG]

Amanda Green said...

Stephen, thank you soooo much. Now you've put me in mind of sparkly vampires again and that is never good. ;-)

And you're right. Inspiration can come from the most surprising of places as well as for the everyday, normal routine. It's what we do with it that makes it our own.

Dave Freer said...

Inspiration? isn't that opposite of expiration? My congrats to your cousin, BTW. Motivation... I struggle with that every day, because I frequently feel I am peeing against the tide with the industry. My heart and respect goes those who are battling even more lower down. There are so many bits of drekk out there... and there are some real jewels I would love everyone to read (Kate's disreputable knights) Matapam's pirates and beauty queens (which should be a romp - which we NEED in the industry, dammit) just to name two. But it can and will be beaten. Somehow.

Amanda Green said...

Dave, you're right about Kate's Tarnished Knights and Matapam's pirates and beauty queens. They do sound like fun romps and the industry does need them. My mini-rant of the morning is that the industry is too scared/hide bound/uninspired/insert your own verb here to break from the trend. Then, when it does, we get years of Twilight clones. It's hard to be motivated when you don't write sparkly vampires and emo werewolves. Still, speaking for myself at least, writers can be a stubborn lot and we keep trying. Or, as you say, peeing against the tide.

C Kelsey said...

Ugh, Sparkly vampires. No more, please! Well... if they sparkle because they've been dowsed in silver dust and set on fire... oooh story idea. :) And I see that there's already a new Twilight movie trailer out.

If you'll excuse me, I'm going to be head-down in a story. I've got some sparkly vamps and emo weres to slay.

RJ_CruzeJr said...

Dave, I'm of the firm belief that, provided one has the help of determined friends, along with an even more ample supply of good beer, it is possible to pee against the tide -- at least as long as the beer holds out ;-)

We may have to try out that hypothesis one day, especially since you're now in Australia, which is well known for its quality and quantity of beer, as well as -- according to "The Princess Bride" -- for being entirely peopled with criminals :-D