Finding inspiration

It’s really difficult to write anything good in a black-hole. I read a great deal, I’m constantly listening to music, watching movies, it’s all fuel for writing. Old ideas create new ideas. 

Experiences are also important, more important than anything else. Reading, watching movies, swallowing pop-culture, it’s all definitely valuable, but I don’t think anything can replace genuine first-hand experiences. The best fiction always has some roots in non-fiction.

So, everything I do, whenever I leave the house, I’m thinking about ways to write about my experiences. I try to put myself in odd situations, bizarre places, because chances are, I’ll be able to write something amazing later. Hell, even as my last girlfriend was dropping me like a sack of bricks, over AIM no less, I thought to myself, “one day, this will be great for writing.”

A few months ago I was out one evening, I wanted to find a totally ugly, totally depressing bar. I found it, I wrote about it…


by: Michael Phillips

The place is awash in dull-red and sickly-yellow light. A confederate flag is tacked to the ceiling, unimaginative lingerie hangs on a wire above the bar, bras of black and white. It’s loud, music you hate, so loud you can hardly hear the little voice in your head telling you you’d be happier leaving. The woman behind the bar has long hair, dirty-blonde, dressed in faded jeans and a white half-shirt. She’d almost be pretty, if she were really there, if her pale-blue eyes really saw you. You order a drink, a Cape Cod. It’s a classy drink for such a classless place. The woman, in fact, has to ask you what it is before sliding it to you in a cheap plastic cup. It’s mostly ice and cranberry juice, the vodka merely an after-thought. 

You sip your shiny red attempted alcohol, hoping to feel something rather than nothing. Johnny Cash begins to sing about one tragedy or another, you’ve heard them all and you don’t care. However, as the man in black tells you his troubles, the woman in white takes to dancing on the scuffed wood bar. You look up, she’s all motion and no life. She’s an illusion of sex, no heat, no kisses that feel like bites, or bites that feel like kisses. She’s a golem, a machine set to task. Her black leather boots slam and skitter, scratch and further scuff the pitiful bar, home to so many weak drinks.

You leave your still-born Cape Cod, barely touched, but it barely touched you, which seems fitting. The surrounding emptiness is too much, the golem too sad to watch. Lifeless life, stopping when the music stops. You leave your cash on the bar, probably too much, but enough to get you somewhere else. You don’t know where you belong these days, but you know it’s not here. You leave and don’t look back.

The night air is cold on your face, cold like you, through and through.

Any experience, good or bad, can be useful later.

What inspires your writing?


  1. says

    As you suggested, Michael, pretty much everything and anything can be a source of inspiration. My ideas tend to suffer painful births instead of popping out into the world fully formed, and for me it’s the spark or seed that’s important. Something I often do is to ask friends and family about their dreams – what often makes no sense to them, will seed as a story idea in me.

  2. says

    What gets me are moments of inspiration from completely mundane experiences. I had a very developed short story concept assault me while playing RockBand 2 last week, during the song “Shooting Star”. Other times, the ideas emerge in moments of silence, or in the middle of other WIPs (that’s always a little inconvenient). And then, the oddest, are those that appear as if from nowhere. I was explaining a short story I’m writing to my husband yesterday, and he asked, “How on earth did you come up with that one?” My response: “Um, I think a lot.”

    Though, my favorite might be what inspired my last novel. A friend said, “I’m surprised you’ve never written a Western.” So it didn’t exactly turn out to be a Western, but it definitely inspired the longest work I’ve written to date.

  3. says

    I like the golem analogy, a “machine set to task” and “black leather boots slam and skitter, scratch and further scuff the pitiful bar.” Great images!

    I look for those little, common experiences and thoughts that many people share but never think about until someonw mentions it. When I find a new one, it’s like finding a gold nugget because they are not easy to come by. The second half of the equation is, I have to make that nugget fit into a story I’m writing, not just tack it on.

    For example, you know how a lot of newer model cars have lights that turn off by themselves? You tell someone, “Hey, you left your lights on” and they say, “No, they go off by themselves after a minute.”
    But I can’t just throw that into a story for no reason, so I wait for the right moment. Maybe the plot calls for a homeless guy to follow a rich girl into a classy bar, to tell her she left her car lights on, and they form a relationship that ordinarily would never happen, or maybe the girl is murdered and he gets blamed for it. Or he doesn’t follow her in because he is afriad of looking stupid (character development), and he waits & waits but the light don’t go out after all. Or whatever. I’m just pulling ideas out of my ass.

  4. Louis says

    I don’t think inspiration comes from within, & I don’t think it comes from without, but instead it’s what’s you find sifting through the wreckage when the two are involved in a head-on collision.

  5. says

    I tend to take far, far too much inspiration from people and events of my own life, to the extent that I have to actually stop myself from consciously or subconsciously including certain people – “Ah, you again. No you don’t…”. One interesting thing is that a certain person who I haven’t seen in years and miss sometimes keeps cropping up, as if I can’t have them in my life anymore but they’re at least still there in my ‘imaginative life’. Writing is a way of keeping memories alive, as if by committing them to a page we’re entrusting them to something a little more solid than merely our minds and bolstering/reassuring our sense that our memories are true similarly to how something unsaid perhaps seems somehow more real once spoken.

    As usual I’m going to draw for a Borges quote here, I think it’s quite apt though:

    “A man sets out to draw the world. As the years go by, he peoples a space with images of provinces, kingdoms, mountains, bays, ships, islands, fishes, rooms, instruments, stars, horses, and individuals. A short time before he dies, he discovers that the patient labyrinth of lines traces the lineaments of his own face.”

    The product is always representative of the producer

  6. says

    I can take no credit, especially if it means denying it from Borges of all people. It’s one of my favourite quotes though and I think one of the most profound.

  7. says

    Currently, music is the my number one inspiration. Actually, there are 2 or 3 Rock bands that are guaranteed to give me ideas (or at least extemely vivid images that are hard to ignore).

    Number two is extrapolation from lines from random conversations with other people. The old ‘double take – excuse me, but what you just said was really interesting’ effect.

    Number three is what Natania mentioned (Inspiration In Midst of Work In Progess or IMWIP) – Strangely, this type of inspiration produces fully formed plots for me. Probably the universe’s sense of humour (when it rains…)