Writing Advice: Finding Inspiration in Others


In my writing life, I’ve found that I have “input” days and “output” days. I’ve written about this before on the blog. Basically, I’m having an “input” day when I’m feeling more interested in reading or watching shows than I am in writing. Conversely, of course, “output” days mean that I’m feeling more inspired and ready to actually output my ideas onto the page. These different types of days often come in bursts, meaning that I sometimes have an “input” week, when I simply don’t feel inspired to write.

Well, folks, I’ve been having one of those weeks. But I wanted to write about this because I feel like it’s coming to an end, and I wanted to discuss why that is. Over the past week, my “input” mode has mostly revolved around the television show Better Call Saul. As some of you may know, this is the prequel to Breaking Bad, and its second season just finished up. I’m really enjoying the show and I think it has the same overall feeling of Breaking Bad, which is thrilling.

In conjunction with watching the episodes, I’ve been listening to the Better Call Saul Insider Podcast. Each episode of the show has a corresponding episode of the podcast, in which the creators, writers, editors, and sometimes actors from the show discuss the process of putting together that episode. Aside from further fueling my obsession with the show, this podcast has also become a source of inspiration for me.

That’s not to say that it’s inspiring me to write a Better Call Saul-esque story. Rather, hearing about the process of creating a rich and expansive story is inspiring me to do the same. Personally, I think Vince Gilligan is a visionary, and hearing him discuss character motivation, backstory development, and worldbuilding (it’s not just for fantasy/sci-fi) is truly awesome. This man has already created 5 superb seasons of a television show that is so unique and compelling, and now he’s moving on to a whole new show in that same rich environment. Hearing about that level of success is, to me, inspiring. It makes me want to create my own stuff.

I have a tendency to feel guilty about my “input” days or weeks. No matter how many times I hear other creators say that feeding your brain with new creative information helps to build your own bank of ideas, I still feel bad if I’m not actively creating. However, it’s important to remember that sometimes you need to take a break from your own stuff and hear about what other creative people are doing. Even if it’s just talking to friends who also create things, this can get you back on track and excited once again about creating. So, go forth! And find inspiration in others!

— Jet Fuel Blog Editor, Mary Egan

Discussion: Getting Ideas


This is the final few days before National Novel Writing Month begins. If you’re committed to participating and do not yet have an idea for your novel, I’d say you’re in trouble! But where do those ideas come from? Where does any writer get his or her ideas? It can be a difficult question to answer, but it might be the most-asked question that authors get. Every author has a different answer. Before I give my answer, here’s what Neil Gaiman had to say:

“You get ideas from daydreaming. You get ideas from being bored. You get ideas all the time. The only difference between writers and other people is we notice when we’re doing it. You get ideas when you ask yourself simple questions. The most important of the questions is just, What if…?…Another important question is, If only…And then there are the others: I wonder…”

Now, I really respect Neil Gaiman and I love his answer. But I also don’t want to steal his answer, so I’m going to try to come up with my own. Where do I get ideas? If the timing of my inspirational bursts proves anything, then shower water must be where I get my ideas from. I’m sure many of us get ideas in the shower, and I think that’s because your mind is not doing anything taxing in the shower. Your mind is left to wander and that’s when the best ideas come.

But where do the ideas come from? I guess I would have to say that I get ideas from what I read, what I watch, and what I would like to see in the fictional world. If I would like to read about wizards in the suburbs, then that’s what I’m going to write (spoiler alert: that’s my National Novel Writing Month idea this year). Many different sources converge in my brain to come up with ideas, and I think that’s true for all of us. And it takes each of our unique brains to come with our own, unique ideas.

So, go forth and create! And please share in the comments where you get your ideas from.

— Jet Fuel Blog Editor, Mary Egan

Discuss: The Feeling of Inspiration


Yesterday I wrote about National Novel Writing Month, a subject that is near and dear to my heart. Thanks to the pressure and structure of National Novel Writing Month, I’ve been able to write many a first draft. This will be my eighth time participating, so it will be my eighth first draft of a novel that I’ve completed. Three of those novels have been completely finished, and two of them have been edited into final drafts.

Of course, these achievements are thanks only in part to the structure and pressure of National Novel Writing Month. Another huge element that goes into writing a novel — or any length of writing project — is inspiration. As I’m sure we can all attest to, inspiration does not always come when it’s called. Sometimes you spend the majority of a writing session sitting in front of your computer or notepad just waiting for words that won’t come.

But when it does come, that inspiration can be the absolute best feeling in the world. I recently found an article by Annie Dillard, in which she describes the sensation of writing without inspiration and then writing with inspiration. She says:

“The sensation of writing a book is the sensation of spinning, blinded by love and daring. It is the sensation of a stunt pilot’s turning barrel rolls, or an inchworm’s blind rearing from a stem in search of a route. At its worst, it feels like alligator wrestling, at the level of the sentence.

At its best, the sensation of writing is that of any unmerited grace. It is handed to you, but only if you look for it. You search, you break your fists, your back, your brain, and then – and only then -it is handed to you. From the corner of your eye you see motion. Something is moving through the air and headed your way. It is a parcel bound in ribbons and bows; it has two white wings. It flies directly at you; you can read your name on it. If it were a baseball, you would hit it out of the park. It is that one pitch in a thousand you see in slow motion; its wings beat slowly as a hawk’s.”

Isn’t that just how it feels? Well, at least that’s how it feels to me. I know that I’ve had days where writing absolutely feels like alligator wrestling. You can’t get the words in line, you can’t suss out the meaning of what you want to say, and the writing just won’t come together. But her description of feeling inspired is just as apt. When you get that sought-after spark and are ready to let the words flow from your fingers or your pen, it truly does feel as though a present has been placed in front of you, only to be unwrapped.

Do you agree with Annie Dillard’s description here? If not, how would you describe the feeling of being inspired? And what makes you inspired? Is there something in particular that you turn to to be inspired? Share all thoughts in the comments!

— Jet Fuel Blog Editor, Mary Egan

Discuss: Your Go-To Reading


Yesterday, the Writing Advice post here focused on the concept of critical reading. Of course, you  can use critical reading with just about any reading material. But we all have favorites that we return to again and again. These are works of fiction or non-fiction that hold a special place in our hearts, and which inspire us to keep creating our own work. These are the books that you return to when you’re feeling uninspired, or feel like you have writer’s block. They’re different for everyone, but I’m sure that we could all name several books — or at least a certain type of book — that can help us with our own writing.

Personally, I tend to write mostly in the fantasy or urban fantasy genre. When I’m looking for inspiration, I like to turn to books that use fantasy settings and creatures in new and interesting ways. Most recently, Mur Lafferty’s book The Shambling Guide to New York City was a great source of inspiration for me. In fact, its plot and urban fantasy setting are very similar to something I tried to write for National Novel Writing Month a few years back. The way that Lafferty is able to easily insert fantastical creatures into a place like New York City is so awesome, and reading her book inspired me to get going on my own urban fantasy ideas.

In addition to books that inspire us, I’m sure we all have a few writing blogs that we enjoy reading when we’re not writing. As you may have gathered, based on just how often I quote him here on the blog, I love Chuck Wendig’s Terrible Minds blog. I think he covers important topics for writers and does so in a fun and engaging way. I also love his Flash Fiction Friday posts, which always have great lists of writing prompts or challenges.

So, now it’s your turn. What kinds of books and blogs inspire you the most? When you’re experiencing writer’s block, or are simply feeling uninspired, where do you turn? Share in the comments!

— Jet Fuel Blog Editor, Mary Egan

Writing Advice: On Inspiration


One of the really great and supportive things that the National Novel Writing Month website offers members throughout November is pep talks from famous authors. These authors span many different genres and are from all different walks of the writing life. A recent pep talk by author Malinda Lo caught my eye this week. The pep talk was all about inspiration, which is something that authors often talk about in very lofty terms. I understand the hype of inspiration, absolutely, but I don’t really like to rely on it for writing. I like getting excited about a new idea, certainly but that excitement is not going to stick around. I think we all know that. And Malinda Lo had something to say about this topic, too.

In her pep talk, Malinda Lo said that “inspiration isn’t what gets your book written. Discipline is. However, inspiration does sometimes pop by for an unexpected visit.”

This spoke to me so much because it’s how I feel about writing. Discipline is what is going to make you sit down in front of your computer every evening and crank out 1,000 words. Discipline is what pulls you away from distractions that demand your attention and make you focus on your story. Inspiration is seductive, as Malinda Lo also mentions, but it’s not going to stick around. Inspiration may plant the seed in your head for a story, but it’s not going to stay and help you write it. For that, you’re going to need discipline.

Malinda closes her pep talk by saying: “Enjoy that inspiration while it’s there. Enjoy it thoroughly because it is rare and precious. Just don’t expect it to show up every day. The only thing that needs to show up every day is yourself—and your determination to see this through to the end. You can do it.”

I guess the main thing to remember is that inspiration is a flight mistress, and discipline is more like a long-time partner. You can’t rely on the fact that you’re going to feel inspired and completely excited every day when you go to write. But you can rely on your own sense of discipline and determination — if it’s good — to get the writing done.

— Jet Fuel Review Blog Editor, Mary Egan