How to find inspiration: a guide for novelists

Courting inspiration – a Chopping Blog post by Darling Axe senior editor Michelle Barker


Courting Inspiration

By Michelle Barker

Emily Dickinson once wrote, “If I feel physically as if the top of my head were taken off, I know that is poetry.” I think she was also describing the physical experience of inspiration.

Last week I was on my bike, which is a common place for inspiration to visit me, because it knows (a) I’m not stopping, and (b) even if I did stop, I don’t have a pen. I was thinking about my new novel, which is still in the idea stage, and I’d been stymied by something that I wanted to use symbolically. I knew I hadn’t hit on the right thing yet, and it was bothering me. All of a sudden that morning it came to me, literally as if it had fallen from the sky. I knew immediately that it was right, because I got cold all over. That is my body’s reaction to a good idea. Emily needed to lose the top of her head. I need to feel as if I’ve just brushed past a ghost.

I don’t know what inspiration is. I only know you have to remain open to it at all times, but that doesn’t mean it’s going to show up. More often than not, it acts like my cat: the more I want her to sit with me, the more time she spends under the bed. And then when I least expect it, she leaps onto my desk and hangs out with me for the entire afternoon.

One year I tried courting inspiration by committing myself to writing a poem a day. It was an interesting experiment for a number of reasons, not least of which was that I produced a lot of poetry. But it also taught me how to pay attention to ideas. By the end of my day, no matter what, I had to have a poem in my notebook. Coming up with 365 ideas for poems isn’t easy (in all honesty, I think I ended up with about 340). So I was on the lookout for ideas all day long, paying attention, eyes, ears, and heart open. It was a great way to live as a writer. A lot of bad poems came out of that experiment, to be sure, but a few good ones too.

Book a sample edit with a professional editor from the Darling Axe Now, as I work on my new novel, I’m doing something similar. I’ve committed to writing daily in my journal about things that are related to the novel—whether it’s a scene, or notes on character development, or ideas about plot. I cannot count on inspiration to meet me halfway every day. That’s not its style. But it knows where I am. It knows that every day I’m making an effort to develop the novel. And every so often it pops in and adds a few words.

The daily commitment is important. I know from previous experience: if I neglect the work, there’s a danger it will... well, fizzle out.

Elizabeth Gilbert explains it better than that (of course) in her wonderful book on creativity called Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear. She talks about ideas as actual things that come knocking on your door. Sometimes they bang loudly. Most often, though, they just peer in through the window and you have to be there to open it. Once they’re inside, you have to keep plying them with whatever it is they want: tea, whiskey, good conversation. They need to know you’re interested—otherwise, eventually, they’ll slink away and approach someone else instead.

Refusing to work until inspiration shows up is not an option. Inspiration won’t put in an appearance if you aren’t there first, trying to get words down on paper. It needs to know where to find you.

So, settle in with your notebook or laptop or whatever works best for you, and work. Even if it’s hard. Especially then.

About the Darling Axe

We are professional editors as well as award-winning writers. We understand the intense effort and emotional investment you have poured into your work. It's our job to help you realize your vision and take your manuscript to the next level.

Work with a professional fiction editor from the Darling Axe: manuscript development and book editing services

Darling Axe Academy – Query Quest: a self-paced querying course

Darling Axe Academy – Best-laid plans: a self-paced outlining course

Book a sample edit with a professional fiction editor from the Darling Axe: manuscript development and book editing services

Related Posts

Midpoint reversal: a mushy-middle solution
Midpoint reversal: a mushy-middle solution
A successful midpoint reversal will take the mush out of the middle of your novel and keep your readers up late wanting
Read More
We are dream-weavers: on the writer's maxim of
We are dream-weavers: on the writer's maxim of "show, don't tell"
We are dream-weavers, and the one thing we don’t want is for our dreamers (readers) to wake up. We want them to be so ca
Read More
Book Broker – an interview with Linda S. Glaz
Book Broker – an interview with Linda S. Glaz
Be sure that it is your absolute best writing that you are submitting.
Read More

Leave a comment

Name .
Message .

Please note, comments must be approved before they are published