One of my favorite things to do is ask fellow artists and colleagues what inspires them? Oprah termed the phrase “fill up my cup” but some might call it re-filling the tank or re-charging. Whatever you call it, how do you do it? Especially when as authors we expend so much energy creating fictional worlds and filling them with complicated and often intense characters and scenes. Your cup becomes depleted very quickly.
If you’re like me, your characters don’t go away when you close your laptop. In fact, going to bed at night unleashes them unfettered into your dreams, a place one has little to no control over. Before I wrote Atonement, the character Gabriel would show up in my dreams and practically demand that his story be told. No matter what I was dreaming about Gabriel would just show up. It could be work, in he would walk, taking a seat right beside me at my desk as I was reviewing spreadsheets. I would dream about family, and suddenly, Gabriel would walk in as if he were related and open the fridge looking for a drink. At first, I didn’t know what to make of it, then I finally concluded he wasn’t going away until I put pen to paper. Seems obvious now but being a new novelist I was a little taken aback. Later, when I listened to other authors story’s I realized a lot of writers’ experience inspiration, character interactions, and story ideas in their dreams. Now I know better, I don’t ignore these little gems.
If a story is in you, it has got to come out.
Most artists I know work either full or part-time, especially in the self-published world. Indie writers must pay the bills and save up for marketing and other publicity that we are tasked with generating ourselves. In between, you still need to find time to write, sometimes it’s blog posts, or Ad copy, but you’re always working on something. Even when your book is launched, your thoughts drift to the next one. Once Atonement was launched, I went and printed out a fillable 12-month calendar. I starred the launch date for book two in the series and worked backward filling in all the steps that would need to happen to successfully meet that date. I was shocked by exactly how much work goes into launch. While you’re in it you don’t really think about it, but afterward, you’re more than a little drained.
Normally, I would look to take a vacation, something free from writing and work, of all kind. Go to a lakeside cottage or beachfront hotel for a few days of rest and relaxation. Copious amounts of wine and chocolate…I’m in. I used to like taking walks in a beautiful botanical garden not far from my house or visit an art museum. Those are all wonderful places to unfurl those tight shoulders and be open to inspiration. But in this world of pandemics and economic hardships those options may not be realistic. You can still take a break from writing and choose a good book to read, that’s been my go to in the last few weeks. Summer is a great time to get outside and catch up some reading. You could get sucked into a new Netflix series. I’m currently watching Warrior Nun, something I thought I wasn’t going to like, but I do! The character Shotgun Mary is the best, she makes the whole show worth watching.
Julia Cameron has written multiple books on this topic such as The Artist’s Way and Vein of Gold. Her thesis is that artists find inspiration by looking within. That looking inside yourself is the key to success, but it’s tough work. Her books focus on a series of exercises and worksheets to help you listen to your own voice. It’s an interesting premise and an even harder one to put into practice. This seems the type of work that could take months, if not years. But doing this work can be rewarding and revealing all at the same time. It may possibly be your best way to tap into your genuine and creative self.
I’ve discovered finding your inspiration comes in many forms, but looking for it, usually doesn’t work. If we could just call upon it, then it probably wouldn’t be so elusive. My best advice is to be open, take care of yourself, and support a cause other than your own. If you’re a writer, listen to those characters that show up in your dreams, they just may become pivotal to your next body of work!