In our last writing tips blog, we talked about some of the common misconceptions that can mire an otherwise well written piece in the doldrums of dumbed-downess. With a fresh decade upon us, it felt apropos to begin the new year talking about inspiration. Many of us find ourselves inspired this time of year to set resolutions with which to better our future selves. Maybe you’ll strive to be a little more health nut and a little less chocolate monster. Perhaps you’ve vowed to give up that bad habit that isn’t allowed within 20 feet of a public building anymore. For me, it’s pretty simple: bump into Warren Buffett on the street’s of Omaha one day and casually convince him to give me $47.3 million dollars so I can finally buy that medium-sized tropical island I’ve had my eye on and retire while my hair is still mostly comprised of a singular shade of not gray. Inspiration can be one of the most powerful driving forces we as writers can draw upon to create. Let’s take a look at some of the ways you can give yourself a little inspiration boost when putting pen to paper (I get it’s more fingers to keys these days, but I’m a real sucker for alliteration, sorry).
One of the easiest ways to create is to allow yourself to be inspired by others that create. Let’s take music, for example. For many, music makes up the soundtracks of our lives. The notes, the instrumentation, the unique quality of each singer’s voice, the harmonies and dissonances, they all blend together to create something that while describable, in the end remains undefinable. Music touches us in such a unique and profound way that it’s hard to quantify its impact on each of our lives. It can accentuate the pure glee that comes from an amazing day to the hurt and sorrow we feel when we’re at our lowest depths. When writing, I’ve found music to be one of the most useful tools at my disposal to better explore the depths of my thoughts and find inner passion about what I’m writing about even if I don’t really care about the thing I’m currently writing about. That doesn’t mean your Spotify account should be your only source of inspiration, however. Maybe there’s a work of art that evokes a certain emotional response you want to transfer over to whatever it is you’re writing about. Maybe there’s a film that follows a certain thematic path you want to replicate in what you’re writing about. Whatever the source material might be, different forms of art and expression can help you become more intune yourself and your writing abilities.
A few years ago I found myself enrolled in a creative writing course where I was tasked with crafting a fictional short story I’d present to my classmates in the days to come. Surrounded by my peers and filled with self-doubt, I ran through endless possibilities over what I’d write about. Idea A would make me look too vulnerable. Idea B might make me look weird. Idea C didn’t have the legs I needed to write a five page story. At work one day, I walked up to a girl I was crushing on at the time and asked her to give me an idea for something to write about. Her response, “you should write about a fish who’s far away from home.” Let’s ignore the fact that this was basically the plotline for Finding Nemo for a second. The important thing was I had found my inspiration. For the next few days, I penned what to this day is still one of my favorite pieces that I’ve ever written. The story was called Fin’s Land and it was about a little whale’s journey from birth to love to death. Truth-be-told, I found it infinitely easier writing for a singular person I had some connection with rather than worrying about what the 20 strangers around me might think. After class that day, a girl walked up to me who I’d never spoken to before. Her eyes were red and puffy. She was basically a liquid salt shaker. She tapped me on the shoulder walking out the door and told me that for whatever reason my little story about a whale named Fin was one of her favorite things that she had ever read, that she absolutely loved what I had written and wanted to take the time to tell me so. The point here is that inspiration can come from a multitude of places. The important part is making sure there’s an emotional connection between points A, B and C that coalesces everything together. Also, it’s super cool making girls cry when it’s in the right context.
Chapter 1: Black
His mind was a jumble, a cloud of ambient noise surrounding every thought. The first to ever have been here, his sight fared falsely, murky at best, the only constant a syncopated sound of “duuuhhhhdummm, duuuhhhhdummm”. Each day seemed a little more clear as if that sound was driving him slowly through a tunnel ambiguous in shape and feel, the passage becoming more clear in the same way a second hand ticking on a clock brings one closer to the end of a day. Yet, Fin didn’t know what a second was. He didn’t know an hour from a year, a tunnel from a sidewalk, a “duuuuhhhhdummm” from an “aaahhhcchuuuu.”
This was home, the only home he’d ever known. What it lacked in space was made up for in the comfort of being confined. After a few seconds, or maybe it was days, Fin wasn’t really sure, the syncopation suddenly turned arrhythmic. The “duuuhhhhdummm” became a “PMHHUUUMAAA!”. His head dealt a blow, his body propelled by a force not his own, Fin couldn’t believe this sensation. He’d moved before, oh yes he had, but not like this, not inches, or was it feet, or maybe miles?
The tunnel was different now. He’d always known its path before. It had remained the same while he moved along its walls, but this…this was not the tunnel he once knew. This tunnel was violent. It cared not for his comfort or concern. Its judgment was clear, Fin must go to a place he had no choice in. In fact, suddenly, Fin wasn’t in a tunnel at all. He felt cold or maybe it was hot. He wasn’t sure. The least of his problems this was, for Fin was sinking, blackness beneath him, or maybe it was red. Who knows. He became aware of a startling reality, the bubble he never knew was there was gone. Did it pop? Was it where he’d been before?
Its loss did have its advantages though. For one, Fin’s body had stretched out longer than he ever knew he was before. For some reason the lower part of his body began to twitch. A few moments after, the twitched turned to rhythm, his body personifying the “duuuhhhhdummm” from before. How he wasn’t sure, but the black, or maybe it was the red, was fading farther from him now. Fin felt brave while for the first time he looked up, not down. A blinding light appeared, shimmering as it fluttered. A pause…then “mmmmeeeeuuuuuuuuu” which as most folks know is whale for “hello.” Fin had entered the world.
Chapter 2: White
Fin would later find out it was indeed black, a second was short, and a year long, even if they seem to get shorter the longer one goes. He found out he wasn’t the first but actually pretty close to the last, as it turned out. He found out the mass was his mother, and the shimmering light was the thing that gave all things life. He found for as small as he had felt, he was actually quite big, comparatively speaking. He found rhythm was movement and that movement could take your eyes to see the most amazing things.
His first summer saw the pod swim south towards the Ross Sea, or maybe it was the Rachel Sea, he wasn‘t entirely sure. There were nine. His grandparents in front leading the way, they’d made this trip eighty three times before. His parents, uncles and aunts drawing flank behind as instinct demanded. Fin swam beneath them all.
Along the way he met some interesting folks: A penguin from New Guinea who’d learned to fly, an octopus from Angola who’d made a garden somewhere beneath the shade, a shark that had converted to being a vegan. In the few moments he spent breached in the bask of the sun, he’d notice the land around him shift slowly from brown to white. After awhile the fish all looked different. The water was more cold. There were not nearly as many to converse with, to hear their stories and tales. Ships and buildings and a bountiful reef replaced with empty waves and a desert of unforgiving white ice. But it was here his family would find food and shelter from dangers he was still unaware of.
He met another whale, Matilda. She was like his mother, not his father. She was two. Her family had lived here her whole life. In fact until she met Fin, her perception of the world’s size was much more limited in scope than his. In the mornings they would eat or take a break to play when the moment allowed. Sometimes at night, when their pods were sound asleep, the two would swim to the edge of the cove, hovering on the surface of where the water intersects air. They’d sit for hours staring out towards the sky. While it was the sun brought them life, it was the moon that brought them movement. Could one exist without the other? And what about those specks so far in the distance. What were they? Who put them there? Would they pick them up someday? What of the world where fluidity turns solid and things walk instead of swim? Who had made that or were they one in the same? So, into the night they’d ponder things much, much bigger than the biggest animal to be alive which so happened to be them.
Fin had lived for an eternity now, nearly a whole year. He’d learned much from the octopus and the penguin and the shark. He’d learned more from his parents and their parents too, centuries of life shared between them all, but it was that summer with Matilda Fin felt he learned the things truly worth learning in their life. It was those nights with a stranger he felt most at home.
Chapter 3: Red
Months would pass and soon it would be Fin’s time to return north to a reef so immense some called it great. He didn’t want to leave, though. He hadn’t realized it until it was time to go, but that monochrome desert had been filled with color somehow along the way. The temperature might be higher up north, but it seemed so much warmer here, he thought. He asked her to come, but she could not.
Two days before the trek back was to start, Fin decided to hide in a cave. Hours missing, his family, Matilda’s too, all searching for that little lost whale so deeply in love. His mother found him first. When you’re surrounded by water, it’s hard to spot a tear, but Fin’s mom knew the difference between water and salt. Fin didn’t know how to get back here. He didn’t even know where here was. He didn’t know if there was another Matilda out there someplace, and even if there was, he wanted no part of her. Only the original would do. Fin’s mother promised they’d be back. This was the way of their species, you see, but for as many summers as he wanted Fin was promised a way back to her, forever and always.
The trek was long, but the water warmed and so too did Fin’s heart a bit. As the pod paused at night to rest, Fin would float to the place where water meets air. He’d look up to the sky, to the specs littered across its black, blank canvas, and finally up towards the moon, its crescent waning, and thought, “if the moon can disappear and come back again, she will too.”
At last they would reach a place where for the first time Fin could call it familiar. White had been replaced with color, colors too beautiful to be named. Life sprung from all around, every notch on life’s chain represented. It all reminded him of Matilda. He met all kinds of fish, a new story every day. The nautilus who’d seen the center of the earth, the swordfish who’d slain a ship, but the luster of their stories had been lost. all that mattered was midnight at the place where the water met the air.
In three weeks Fin and his pod would return south. It was a day like any other, a day filled with the anticipation of what was to come and apathy for what was occurring now. Suddenly, Fin noticed his grandparents dart in a frantic way while his parents followed suit. His heart raced but he didn’t know why. “duuuhhhhdummm. duuuhhhhdummm.” Together they swam fast as their fins could go. When Fin could, he looked up, a mass not unlike the one from the day of his birth giving chase above. First was his father, his grandmother seconds later. Their synchronized movement suddenly arrhythmic. What Fin knew now was his world was very much red, this he was sure of. It was not black. It was not some shade of blue or brown. This…this was red, as red as red gets. It may have been seconds, maybe it was hours, Fin didn’t know. No matter how long the lifetime, the significance of it flashing before you cannot be measured with any standard sort of time. His first breath, his first day with Matilda, the moon, the stars, the air, and then nothing. Black. As black as black can get.
Fin and his family were gone. Their remains made into margarine to lather across a large-bellied man’s bread or filler for the gloss artificially placed upon a woman’s lips. Maybe this was the modern circle of life, maybe it was the modern world shaping that circle into something else altogether. It didn’t really matter, though. Fin had been finished.