Friday, August 6, 2010
by Bethany Maines
When I started writing professionally it was with the understanding that I was, as my high school English teacher once wrote on a short story, “not very creative.” And ok, later I figured out that said teacher had gone to junior high with my mother and probably hated me (What did you do to her, Mom? What?!), but some things stick with you. So it surprised me when people kept asking me, “How did you come up with your idea?” Oh please, like it never occurred to you to invent a make-up company that saves the world one woman at a time and with extreme prejudice. But it turns out that it hadn’t occurred to most people to do that. Or to invent genetically-engineered glowing-salamander tube lighting. (I thought that one was great – not sure why it got rejected.)
But as I venture further into writing, the bedrock questions remain, “How do I find inspiration? And how do I find it NOW?” I wish I knew how to make inspiration happen on command, but I’m not sure it can. British fantasy satirist Terry Pratchett suggests that ideas sleet through the universe like a meteor shower looking for a receptive brain, and I tend to believe him. The ideas are out there. The trick is to figure out how to make the brain more receptive.
First, do not try to make an idea-catching hat. That would just be crazy. However, do not be afraid to wear funny hats. If you free yourself from the idea that you have to be appropriate all the time, then it means you’ve freed yourself up to be silly, daring, adventurous, and just a little bit crazy. And, in my experience, that’s where the good stuff is.
Second, research is your friend! Ideas lurk in the new and unexpected, so learning something new exponentially increases the chances of having an idea. Which is how I justify my addiction to going on vacation--it’s research!! Learning how to say “apricot” in French from a crêpe dealer? Research! (For the record it’s ap-reh-ko, thank you, and no, you will not be getting your crêpe until you say it correctly.) Following my idiot travel companion onto a tuk-tuk in Bangkok because some stranger on the street said the Temple of the Giant Catfish was THE place to go when clearly he and the tuk-tuk driver were in cahoots? That’s inspiration fuel at its finest! (The catfish were indeed giant, and the neighborhood as shady as expected, but there actually was a temple, and we didn’t get kidnapped and sold into slavery.)
Third, as a wise man from someplace called Ridgemont High once said, “Wherever you are is the place to be.” Yes, new and crazy are good, but sometimes your life is all the inspiration you need. Which is another way of saying, “write what you know.” But besides writing what you’re intimately familiar with, write like your life is important. I know sometimes we all feel like our lives are occasionally dull, horrible, and eye-stabbingly painful (make sure it’s someone else’s eye), but that’s because we’re the ones living through them. Someone else’s life always looks more interesting to us (which is why we read and write to begin with), but we should remember that the world is chock full of someone else’s. Look at your life from the outside and you may be inspired by what you find.
So when the idea meteors are just bouncing off my noggin, I try to use one of these techniques. I hope I’ve helped all of you out there on the intra-web to some fresh inspiration as well. And now, as another wise man said, I will go home and attempt to “Learn it. Know it. Live it.” Thank you Judge Reinhold, and thanks to the Stiletto Gang for letting me visit!
Thank you for visiting, Bethany! You are too funny (and so is your book)! For more scoop on Bethany and her fabulous debut, BULLETPROOF MASCARA, visit her at BulletproofMascara.com.