Romancing the Muse

How to Find Creative Inspiration in Your Daily Life

Writers are always seeking the elusive Muse. Her services are so necessary, but often it seems she’s shy and needs a little encouragement. I have as much trouble as any other creative sort trying to suppress my inner editor, but I’ve found a few techniques help me overcome writer’s block.

The secret is finding the story in your surroundings.

  • Seek the meaning of your dreams.

Now, I happen to have frequent dreams involving castles and battles, but even dreams about the car not starting before the big presentation can lead to a story. You don’t need a fancy dream dictionary unless you want a standard interpretation of certain symbols. Often I like to refer to the classic interpretation but also develop my own meaning from a dream. For example, dream decoders say spiders imply that a person is feeling trapped. I’ve woken screaming from nightmares about spiders the size of my head – the “interpretation” I take from these dreams is that spiders are terrifying!

Once you have elements of a dream identified and translated into something meaningful to you, you can take your personal interpretation and develop your story, or you can imagine how your character might interpret the same dream and what your dream might mean to them.

I’ve used both of these techniques in my current work-in-progress. The concept for the novel itself came from a dream, which I’ve built upon and refined, but the basic elements of the dream drive the story forward. I’ve also shared my recurring nightmare of spiders and webs with my main character.

  • Listen to music.

This may sound old hat to most of you, but hear me out. Instead of listening to your favorite genre, go looking for something different – my favorite type of music to shake off a bout of writer’s block is medieval ballads. Even hair band ballads and old country music will work in a pinch. These types of songs tell a story that might inspire you – people go on journeys, fall in love, and generally experience adventures, all set against melodies that are unfamiliar to your ear, which force your mind to make new associations and BAM! Writer’s block vanquished!

I’ve named characters based on the way words are sung, determined character relationships based on playlists I’ve put together, and even juxtaposed song lyrics from wildly different genres to come up with a plot twist.

  • Visit a museum…or a mountain.

Seeking out new experiences, seeing something new, getting outside to breathe fresh air and calm your senses can work wonders for encouraging creativity. I like visiting forts and castles on vacations so I can imagine how people might have lived in them.

The art in museums can sometimes prompt a story, too – one of my favorite art prints shows two young girls frolicking in a garden overlooking a house by a river. An innocent, happy picture by most standards, but there’s a shadowy figure in the boat in the distance, lurking where most of us can’t see him. What’s he waiting for? What’s he going to do? Do you have a plot twist yet?

  • Reimagine a character in a different environment.

Any interesting character will do, from a book, movie, play, TV show, or news article. The character doesn’t have to be your favorite one, just one that catches your interest. Imagine a sitcom character on a spaceship or your favorite PI as a superhero. (And yes, I do love a good time-travel story, but that’s not what we are after here…)

Let’s put Sherlock Holmes in King Arthur’s court, except he’s not a hook-nosed opium addict but rather the ruddy-faced and much-harried Cook, and there’s a mystery to solve that might vindicate the Queen before the trial. Pass the salt!

What would happen if Anne Shirley met Harry Potter? Or Carrie Bradshaw woke up in Victorian England? Or the Cat-in-the-Hat decided to visit Gotham City?

The best murder-mystery I’ve read took place on a space station. Just ask yourself how the new environment would change the character and what events would likely befall him, and suddenly you have the bare foundation for a new story. Just remember that Sherlock Holmes, now a Cook, might not have a brilliant brother or a trusty sidekick. How did he become a Cook, and how is he otherwise different from the Baker Street amateur detective? Those differences are vital to making your story and character unique and not derivative.

  • Peek in the dictionary.

It’s no secret that I love words – big words, exotic words, archaic words…I want to use them all in this book and phooey to anyone too lazy to look up the definitions. I have, like other logophile writers, been forced to curb this impulse in the interest of actually attracting readers.

Sometimes all you need is a word with an unusual definition – find a way to incorporate the definition as the critical focus of a scene. You might be surprised at what happens next.

These techniques for jumpstarting your story all hinge on using daily exposures to interests you already enjoy to provide inspiration. Now put down the coffee before your Muse gets the jitters and get to writing!