Tuesday, September 18, 2012

3 Unexpected Places Writers Can Find Inspiration by Katheryn Rivas

Latching onto inspiration in an unexpected moment or place is an art of creative awareness. To begin drawing inspiration from your everyday experiences, you need only be armed with an instinct for storytelling and a pen and paper (or the technological equivalent).

Finding inspiration in the unexpected is often the exact opposite of what you may think of as exciting or surprising. It is an active search to overturn the boulders, stones and pebbles of your life; searching for the interesting tidbits that have been left in the shadows.

The Office

Even if your office is relatively drama-free, keep your eyes and ears open for any signs of conflict or romance. If there’s a lack of both, you can usually churn out some comedic dialogue or character sketches using your co-workers as a reference. Comic relief is an essential part of fiction that is very often overlooked by creative writing instructors.

Every office has a villain, but the heroes are often so much harder to identify. Consider how you respond to other people and what dynamics are in play. The political dynamics of an office can be rife with unspoken tension, fears, insecurities and agendas.

Delving into the facts of what’s actually happening in your office may prove dangerous, so proceed with caution. Use your imagination to fill in the blanks of your suspicions and take measures to transform real-life people into fictional characters. You don’t want to be sued for libel.

Idea: Write a poem about a mundane task you perform. Use hyperbolic and reverent language to make it as melodramatic as possible. Share it with your co-workers for a laugh.

Public Transportation / Public Places

When I travel, I find that my best writing comes from observing others in their day-to-day lives. There is something about public transportation that always lends the feeling of tourism, even on the subway ride home. For the writer, public transportation is a potential goldmine of inspiration. It illuminates the very essence of coincidence.

Imagine, in each subway car, individuals who are starkly alienated from one another come together in a brief moment of loose community. Where are they going? Where have they been? What small, barely perceptible dynamics are driving the social interaction? The same questions can be asked when observing people in public places.

Idea: Write a series of character sketches based on the strangers you encounter during your day.


One of my favorite “games” to play while at restaurants and cafes is to study the body language of the people around me.  Restaurants and cafes merge the intimate with the public, allowing complete strangers to observe relationships and overhear conversations. Here, couples and friends join together, making for a great opportunity to observe dialogue and mini-dramas of social interplay. Perhaps even more interesting is the study of a single individual. Loners are much more mysterious than groups, and the clues we gather from them are much more important.

Idea: Study a loner and develop a flash fiction piece based on his (or her) behavior. 
Author bio:
Katheryn Rivas is a freelance writer and resident blogger at www.onlineuniversities.com, a site dedicated to distance higher education.  
During college, my professors drilled a single concept into my brain. “Write what you know,” they said.

Well, I knew a lot about literary theory and Russian and American literature – but I didn’t know it in my bones. I couldn’t write about it on instinct.

I realized I just simply wasn’t paying attention to my everyday life. Today, my world is filled with unexpected surprises. Some beneficial, some tragic – but the unexpected is almost always good material for a story.

She welcomes your comments at katherynrivas87@gmail.com.

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