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Sources of Inspiration

I’ve always been interested in where writers and other artists get their ideas. Some are stated in an obvious manner. Most, however, are a mystery to outsiders, leaving readers, listeners, or viewers to merely guess in conjecture. Most of my writing (but not all) is influenced by real life. Many of my characters have been inspired by real people. This is common, especially in the area of children’s literature. After all, most (but not all) of the great children’s classics were inspired by the antics and quirky behaviors of the authors’ own children. Mine are no exception, especially as I build my Hazelnut picture book series.

Art (and I’m including writing in the category of “art”) does not always need to be personal. It doesn’t always need to be confessional in nature or inspired by the happenings of the day. It doesn’t have to be a particular anything to be considered “good.” In fact, I’ve mused over this question over the last several weeks: What makes art (in any medium, including but not limited to writing, music, dance, performance, and so forth) considered “good”? I would argue that what makes art in any form good is whether it makes you feel something. I recall in a creative writing class in college hearing that good writing explores “the human condition.” I agree with that statement. It is the feeling derived from the human condition that impacts the recipient of the art form. As contradictory as this may sound, I believe good art explores the human condition by making you feel. That feeling is not always good. Sometimes, it can make you squirm in discomfort, and that’s okay. Sometimes, good art is not immediately likable, or it may instigate conflict.

In “the last great american dynasty” by Taylor Swift (not a typo. All of her songs on folklore album deliberately omit capitalization, probably fashioned after e.e.cummings’s aversion to capital letters), she explores the relationship between Rebecca and Bill and the history of their home named “Holiday House.” Besides detailing the history of this real life American dynasty, she states clearly the source of her idea: “Fifty years is a long time / Holiday House sat quietly on that beach / free of women with madness / their men and bad habits, and then it was bought by me.” In other words, the idea for her song came from the history of her home and the antics of long ago owners. Rather than personal history, she used the history of a place as inspiration for this particular song.

In the case of Stephen King, perhaps one of the most prolific writers in the horror genre, his sources of inspiration run the gauntlet of possibilities. He wrote on his website, “I get my ideas from everywhere. But what all of my ideas boil down to is seeing maybe one thing, but in a lots of cases it’s seeing two things and having them come together in some new and interesting way, and then adding the question ‘What if?’ ‘What if’ is always the key question.” This answer is pretty generalized, but it makes me wonder, looking at the complexity of the final piece such as the epic novel The Stand, the train of thoughts that brought that work into fruition.

Ideas can truly come from anywhere, and I believe that real life offers an abundance of inspiration. The trick, I think, is to turn the ideas into something original, into something that penetrates the soul, contemplates the human condition, and compels the receiver to feel something, all while seeming effortless. No easy feat, even for the greats.



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