Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Inspiration for the Writing Life by Katherine Valdez

Inspiration for the Writing Life

by Katherine Valdez

“Writers live twice.”
—Natalie Goldberg

I was sipping a bottle of iced tea and glanced at the writing inside the cap: “Spend more time on what makes you happy.”
    Writing, reading, running, movies, spending time in nature, and visiting friends and family make me happy. What if I couldn't do these things? What would a character in a story think or do, and how would he interact with people if he's not truly happy? If he's unable to pursue his passions?

    Writing prompts are everywhere, and everything in life is material for your writing. These details will help you tell your story. What are you passionate about? What do you want the world to know?
    I like to read my horoscope once or twice a week as simple food for thought, although the astrologer can be eerily accurate. One day last month, my horoscope said “You will have a strong feeling and a connection to a physical item. It's OK to be unsure as to why.”

    I happened to see a small, inexpensive journal while I was at the store, and was drawn to the blue and green shiny butterflies on the black cover. I'm almost finished with my current journal, so I took this as a sign that I needed to buy it. I could write a story about a girl who is drawn to some butterflies she sees in a park on her way to school, and decides to follow one that circles around her head before heading toward a grove of trees.
    Your journal can be a great source of material. I'm reading Keeping a Journal You Love, by Sheila Bender, in which she shares practical instruction, writing prompts, and journals entries from 15 respected writers such as Pam Houston, Denise Levertov and Ron Carlson.

    One of the most intriguing prompts from this book is “Write about something someone told you during the day and what it makes you feel about life.” I was explaining a dilemma to a friend recently, and she asked, “What do you want to do?” I had to repeat the question in my mind. “What do you really want to do?” Without taking anything or anyone else into consideration, my decision became clear. I now had permission to pursue my own happiness, guilt-free.
    This same thought process could end up revealing something about a character that I might not include in a story, but is important to understand. Maybe that character is hesitating to make the right decision because she knows it will hurt someone she loves.

    Add details that provide depth to your protagonist. What quirk or tendency does he have? Maybe it's something that annoys another character. Maybe it's a flaw that will affect the story's conflict.
    I've overheard some funny and interesting portions of conversations over the years, while standing in line at the grocery store, sitting in a coffee shop, or waiting for a movie to start at the local theater.

    In the November/December 2012 issue of The Writer, Diana Abu-Jaber, author of Birds of Paradise, said: “When I'm starting a new book it seems as if everything inspires me. I think of that time as 'sticky brain.' Anything can set off a story: an angle of light through trees, an item in the newspaper or a bit of overheard gossip. Basically, I think you have to be sort of naturally receptive toward inspiration. Be open to being inspired by whatever comes your way – then you'll never run out of ideas.”
    A friend gave me Journey to the Heart: Daily Meditations on the Path to Freeing Your Soul, by Melody Beattie. Just before finishing this blog post, I read the entry for today's meditation, about awakening to the storyteller within. “Each of us has a story to tell, a story to share with the world...Tell it with joy and flair. Commit to telling it with love and passion.”

    Good luck on your writing journey! I'd love to hear what inspires you.

About the Author
Katherine Valdez writes short fiction and personal essays. She was a finalist in the Grey Sparrow Journal 2012 Flash Fiction Contest and her short story “Little Red Riding Hood Seeks Vengeance” appears in the anthology Open Doors: Fractured Fairy Tales. Contact her at www.KatherineValdez.com and find her on Twitter (@KatValdezWriter) and Facebook (KatherineValdez2012@gmail.com).


  1. I'm inspired by so many things it is hard to decide which one to mention. Mainly, I'm inspired by simply being alive. Good post!

  2. I'm often inspired by dreams, events that happened in my life many years ago, or even by certain locations that seem to trigger story ideas. One of those places, for instance, is a touristy little gold mining town in NW Arizona. So far I've used it in a mystery novel, a short story, and now in a suspense novel I'm working on. That one little town inspires me more than any other place I've ever visited or lived in.

    1. Great to hear how one place has inspired you so much, Pat. Thanks for sharing this! I'm inspired by dreams and past events, too, and have been thinking lately about locations that are meaningful to me, like my hometown beach. Dipped my toes in the Pacific yesterday and watched a pelican skim over the water.