My Top Four Sources of Inspiration for New Stories

See if any of these sources can help you find your next idea to write!

Čebelarski Muzej Radovljica, Museumof Apiculture Radovljica, writing and fantasy inspiration
Old Slovenian beehive boxes at the Museum of Apiculture (Čebelarski Muzej Radovljica)

At one point, I remember working on a specific story for so long that I started to wonder if I’d ever have any new ideas ever again. All I could think about was that one draft I’d been absolutely shredding for weeks on end, one I felt like I knew every detail of. I was stuck in that story; I could see, imagine, or think of nothing else the entire time I was going at it.


There came a few lucid moments in between writing sessions where I’d ask myself, “Is this it? What will I do when it’s done?”


Luckily, though, these questions didn’t stick around for very long. Ideas are cheap, as we’ve no doubt heard a thousand times before, and in fact, fantasy author Brandon Sanderson has much the same teaching in his university courses, where he tells students that “writing is not about the idea, but rather the skillset”—even the worst idea can be pretty decent with the right skill level, and even the best idea can be completely useless with not so hot skills.


And if you’re creative enough to think of one idea, then more ideas are bound to show up eventually. Here’s where I get the bulk of mine:


Music


This is honestly my top inspiration source. In my undergraduate degree, I minored in film, where I took a course on film music; between that and my time in the high school band, music was always an integral part of a scene’s mood and pacing for me, and for imagining scenes in my head. In fact, I’ve crafted entire core parts of novels off of one song, and they’ve tended to be some of my best scenes; I’ll just play a song on repeat as I write and let that song take over.


The atmosphere different genres of music create, or that different artists put out, can instantly switch my headspace. Warsaw Village Band is one of my favorite Slavic folk bands that give me the perfect mood to write the witchy stories I love so much, and depending on the setting, features of my characters, or any other mood I’m trying to capture with them, I’ll listen to music by musicians from all over the world.


Mood music, too, like CLANN, Fleetwood Mac, video game and movie soundtracks, or anything else with the right pacing, beat, and vibe make the imagination start cranking right away. Even songs I don’t expect to do anything other than just fill the space during my work day have the tendency to make me dream something up, and then those ideas get shuffled away for later.


Travel


This one is also huge. My mother’s home country, Slovenia, is one I’ve visited a few times, and each time I go, I’m focused on the natural scenery and relaxing with a good glass of wine, sure—but I’m also out hunting for historical sites, monuments, museums, or other things that might contribute a new idea—be it a name of a country, a story of an ancient people, a folktale to riff off, or any other kernel of inspiration.


In Piran, for example, a coastal city on Slovenia’s slice of the Adriatic, there’s a church of St. Francis that holds two things that captured me: a holy water basin made of a huge seashell, and in the courtyard next door, a throne-like seat carved of a 500 year old petrified olive root. Right away, the questions started churning in my head: in a city so mermaid-like, with Tartini Square gleaming with white marble and the ocean lapping at the docks, the streets small and uneven, almost secretive, what was this big brown root doing here in the middle of it all?


Believe me when I say the answer to that is yet another book I can’t wait to write.


Obviously, though, traveling isn’t always accessible. I’m extremely fortunate to have been able to visit my mother’s homeland and engage with the language, the culture, all of it. However, traveling can be done right in your own state, or even from your own house. Being a tourist in your own state is the perfect way to find new ideas; a trip to the Newport Mansions in my home state of Rhode Island was in itself an eye opening experience, and with the COVID-19 pandemic, countless museums and other places created virtual galleries to walk through, or photos on Google Maps to place oneself in. There’s a thousand and two things to discover at any time, from anywhere, that might be your next source of inspiration.


“What If / Imagine…?”


Sometimes, questions crop up. And sometimes, answers crop up with them. When you’re talking with someone, and you hear a story—about anything, really, be it current events or just a funny story someone is telling you—engage with it! This one is hard to explain, but honestly, if you know, you know.


Imagine if your friend who lived alone was venting about not having anyone to help them around the house, telling you about their struggles. Imagine if you were joking about it, and in your goofing around, recommended they just summon a helper—old school fantasy sorcerer style?


What would happen if you just conjured one? And what if the thing you conjured wouldn’t go back when you tried to send it back?


Sounds like a story idea to me. I swear, they crop up like clovers; they pop out of the most unkempt gardens in my head, and frankly, I have no intention of doing any weeding there.


Reading


Maybe this is a no-brainer, but honestly, as a writer, reading is critical. I distracted myself from it for a long time, but when I’m stuck—and I mean, stuck, lacking not only inspiration but a certain flow and form—reading helps tremendously.


I have a project to start for NaNoWriMo next month that was puzzling me from the style I was using to write it, and it’s reading through Katherine Arden’s The Bear and the Nightingale that’s helping me compare the two narratives’ form and seeing where my form is causing roadblocks. (It’s also a fantastic example of a book based in Slavic folklore, specifically Russian lore, and God knows I love that as much as I love reading Naomi Novik’s work, with its more Polish flourish).


There is absolutely nothing wrong with reading a book and finding something in it that lights a candle in your own mind. All stories have already been written, but they haven’t all been exhausted; if you can take a piece of a book and spin it into something entirely new, from asking that “What If?” question and running wild with it, then congratulations—you have a new idea to work with.

 

So Go On and Write!


Maybe reading this post gave you a couple new ideas. Or maybe, you’ll find a couple clovers popping up in your own head the next time you settle down with a book—imagining what would happen if a character acted differently, or had a different upbringing. Let them grow! Store them somewhere safe, where you can let them flourish. Soon, you’ll find yourself with a half-dozen little weedlings that, in fact, might not be weeds at all.


They might just be a fruit, ready to harvest eventually.


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