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.

What kind of story?

Ideally stories should begin with the kind of inspiration which makes you feel they need to be   written , so the question: ‘What kind of story shall I  write ?’ should not arise. If the question does arise the  best  way to answer it is to think of the kind of stories you have enjoyed in the past, and  write  a story which you yourself would like to read.

Personal experience

I doubt whether there has  ever  been a story  written  which was not based to some extent on a personal experience of the author’s, though the original events may have become changed out of recognition, and fragments of events widely separated in time may have been combined. Even if an author maintains that the events are pure fiction, the emotional content, if it is at all convincing, must have come from reality.

So if you are stuck for an idea a  good  starting point might be to think back to some point in your past when you made a decision, or carried out some action, maybe in response to external pressures, which seems to have been a turning point, either for  better  or for worse, in your life. Then think in terms of a before, a turning point, and an after, and the dynamics of a potential story might begin to emerge from the mist.


If you’re still stuck perhaps one of these suggestions will help:

1) Having lodged the intention of  writing  a  short  story firmly in the back of your mind, forget it, and give your undivided attention to everything that goes on in your everyday life. Observe everything. Listen to what people say, watch what they do, and perhaps most important, observe your own reactions. Watch the way your thoughts and feelings fluctuate during the day. Are there certain sets of thoughts which crop up again and again? Sooner or later something will click, and you’ll think: ‘That was interesting’ or, ‘I wonder why that happened!’, and you could well be clutching a thread which, when unravelled, reveals the beginnings of a story.

2) Think of how you feel when you listen to your favourite piece of music, and try to imagine how you would write a story to convey that feeling.

3) Do any thoughts spring into your mind in response to any of the following questions, and where do they lead? Perhaps they will led to a seed of inspiration.

What do you most wish would happen to you in life?

Has your life turned out the way you expected it to when you were a child?

What is the  best  day you’ve  ever  had? Does it look different in retrospect from the way it was when it happened?

What was the worst day you’ve  ever  had? How has your memory of it changed through time?

Copyright: Ian Mackean