Inspiration: Where Does It Come From?

A Question for TW Readers


For this month's theme, "The Time Bind," four TW writers tell you how they find inspiration in the midst of the daily scramble.

Now we're asking you to let us know what sparks your creative writing. Comment below to give TW and your fellow readers new ideas about how to beckon the muse.

To get you started, here are some inspirational triggers from our theme writers.

In The Then of Now, Rebecca Meacham describes how a quiet moment with her baby set her thinking about the way she could use that very scene in her new historical novel.

Good for the novel, perhaps, but as Rebecca notes:

To some, this may seem exploitive—or worse yet, schizoid, whorish. After all, the least a person can do is fully inhabit her own mind as she interacts with others."

In The Haunting, Lynya Floyd tells about a strange occurrence related to her grandfather. As Lynya rode a bus near her grandfather's former home in Harlem, the scent of his cologne suddenly filled the cabin. Lynya asks:

Was he reminding me it was time to tell his story? Or was I mistaking someone’s aftershave for a child’s memory of silver-topped bottles on a man’s nightstand?"

In Time Is Not of the Essence, David Biddle shares several tips for sparking ideas for essays, including engaging in Facebook arguments. He says:

When people are relentless with their ridiculous opinions, my instinct is to eloquently put them in their place—subtly or not so subtly. I’ve been loath to let myself fall into this trap, but vanity sometimes gets the better of me—and maybe that’s a good thing."

In The Phantom Tollbooth, Laurie Weisz describes how the horrific death of an old friend inspired her to return to writing a long-delayed book of short stories about polo. Laurie tells us:

The impossible sadness of the accident reawakened my writing reflex. What other way is there for me to make sense of all the dangling memories I have of him, frozen in time like an extinct arctic mammal?"

The loss or near-loss of aging parents can also be an inspiration for writing.

Elizabeth Langosy found that assisting her 88-year-old mother through gall bladder surgery and subsequently discussing the experience with her philosophical dentist sparked this month's Editor's Note, Life at a Snail's Pace—Sometimes.

And in the midst of preparing for the November issue, Martha Nichols lost her mother-in-law. In What Were You Doing When the News Came?, she talks about coming to terms with her grief and the writing it inspired. She begins her piece:

Almost instantly, I found myself trying to figure out what I thought was so important a few seconds before. I should have known. I should have marked the tingle in my neck, the hair lifting with psychic static."

We look forward to hearing the events and experiences that have inspired your stories, poems, and essays. Thanks for sharing them.



The inspiration for writing something new appears unexpectedly. But after a project is under way, ideas and solutions come when I wake up in the middle of the night to, uh, pee. I keep a notepad and pen on the night table and write in the dark, not wanting light to wake me up. Sure, sometimes I write over what I've already written, and all is lost. But mostly, the next morning, I can read what I wrote and decide if it as brilliant as it seemed at 3 a.m.

For a long time, for many years really, I have always tried to do something related to writing each and every day. It may be to write something new, or to revise something old, to submit a piece of work, whatever it is that keeps the creative spirit active. It is not always possible to be working away at a long project, say a novel or a play. But there are always a few minutes (seconds?) to nurture the spirit every day.

Time is there, but will I be? I always answer "yes." Otherwise, life carries me and everything else away in a swirl of otherness.

I keep notepads in my purse and in my car and jot down things I see and hear driving to the library or sitting in the waiting room at Kaiser Permanente or noticing that a Vietnamese restaurant has a clock that tells what time it is in Vietnam. Sometimes months go by without my checking those notebooks. Then on a "blank" day, I flip the pages. And there is a raggedy homeless man pushing a shopping cart filled with trash bags. Sleeping peacefully atop one bag is a beautiful white cat. Since I've yet to write anything inspired by this notation, I invite readers to use this scrap in any way they wish.

It's good to always be on the alert, isn't it? Noticing everything, writing it down, seeing if it sticks, turning it over in one's mind. My book or character ideas tend to come from conversations with people – something will spark and suddenly a small detail given offhand by an acquaintance becomes a pivotal event for a fictional character. Someone falling asleep at a dinner table, someone telling me of her plans to build a home out of reclaimed goods... I do always warn people not to tell me anything they'd rather didn't appear in print. I'm a thief.

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