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Short story writing: inspiration, part 1

Inspiration is the first cause in all creativity, and at the same time it is the most unpredictable and elusive aspect. There are occasions when it seems to arrive out of the blue, and other times when it will not come at all no matter how much we want it. There are no magic formulae for finding it, but perhaps we can understand its nature and encourage it to work for us by considering what exactly it is. Here is a definition:

Stimulation or arousal of the mind, feelings, etc., to special or unusual activity or creativity. (Collins English Dictionary)

This might suggest that lack of inspiration is connected to a lack of stimulation of the mind, and such a lack of stimulation might be a result of the unfortunate fact that most of us have to spend a large proportion of our time engaged in routine and habitual activities.

A day spent in exactly the same way as the day before, and the day before that, is unlikely to stimulate the mind into special or unusual activity. A day of special or unusual activity, however, is almost guaranteed to provide mental stimulation. I would suggest, therefore, that the greatest enemies of inspiration are routines and habits.

Another way of looking at it is to consider the original Latin meaning of the word inspiration: 'To draw in breath', and to connect this to the colloquial phrase: 'A breath of fresh air.' If we are lacking in inspiration, we should ask ourselves whether we are allowing enough fresh air into our minds, or shutting out the air with daily routines.

It may not always be practical for us to spend a whole day or week doing something we have never done before, but all of us have routines and habits which, with a little will-power, can be disrupted to beneficial effect. Take a different route to work in the morning, spend your lunch hour differently, talk to someone you've never spoken to before. If you normally go to the cinema on a Wednesday evening, go swimming. If you normally go swimming, go to the cinema. 'Phone that person you haven't spoken to for years, visit that town down the road you've never been to.

Anything which constitutes a routine or habit is a worthy target for disruption, and the more essential it seems, the more benefit will be gained from disrupting it. The process might be painful, or surprisingly pleasurable, but either way there is a chance that it will stimulate the mind into special or unusual activity, which we can then channel into writing.

Holidays and weekends away should be particularly useful, not only because we break our routines and come into contact with different places and people, but because we feel differently, and it is often the emergence of new or long-forgotten feelings which gives rise to inspiration.

Inspiration part 2 >

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