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From Real Life to the Written Page: Inspired by People You Know or Have Met

“Writers, do not wait for inspiration. You need to arm yourself and track inspiration down and mount its head over your fireplace.” – Erin Bow
This quote makes me laugh. It’s a reminder to open my eyes and ears and look and listen for inspiration. I find it mostly in other people, whether I know them well or not.

Inspired by people we know
Seeing one man’s recycled iron art, I interviewed him and wrote and sold several articles. Ditto from hearing how a woman collected larch needle balls, a nature–made phenomenon.

One friend’s struggle with alcohol addiction inspired two different short stories. Another friend’s commitment to feeding the needy generated a story that sold four times to different religious publications.

My children’s experiences have inspired many other stories. These include being assigned to a scary teacher, helping kids younger than themselves, arguments with friends, cheating at school, going on a mission trip, working as a barista, volunteering, being on the swim team, and probably many others not popping to mind at the moment. Many of these pieces ended up in the children’s inspirational market place.

Working in a special education classroom, I saw how hard some of these young people labor to learn. Several more short stories resulted.

Heroes in my life have given me material for the written page, too. My aunt spent most of her life working in a third world country helping poor tribal people in a medical clinic. Her brother faithfully visited men in prison. My father kept learning new skills into his eighties. Who are the heroes in your life? Could you honor their sacrifice, dedication, or resilience in your writing?

Inspired by fellow writers
My fellow writers have inspired me to press on, given me tools and ideas, encouragement, and so much more. People in the book and magazine business have been generous with feedback and time and faith in my writing. This statement by author Martha Brockenbrough is encouraging: “Every published author I’ve met has had a moment where they wanted to quit. The people who get published are the ones who keep trying.”

I’m inspired by the members of my various critique groups over the years. Their hard work, dedication to writing, and faith in my writing are all things that help me keep going. One such member is 81! I’m inspired by so many volunteers of great writing organizations. Their leadership and vision have provided a place for me to get help, learn about craft, marketing, and more. I’m inspired by my fellow Institute instructors, too. And students. Sometimes the students who struggle the most to get through an assignment and/or a course are the most inspiring because they didn’t give up.

Inspired by strangers
Even complete strangers have inspired me. It may be that overheard snippet of conversation, the obvious love a father shows his small son, the care taken with a difficult customer, or that jerk whose attitude can be the instigation for my villain. (Not all inspiration is positive.)

Obviously, this means I have to be interacting with other people to get the inspiration. I love what Katherine Paterson said, “As I look back on what I have written, I can see that the very persons who have taken away my time are those who have given me something to say.” And at times you just need a break before inspiration will come. “Nurture yourself. Read a great book. Sit in the back yard for ten minutes and listen to all the sounds. What rests you? A rested writer can tackle any problem, including schedules!” – Joan Broerman

Inspired by primary sources
But even if you can’t get out and meet others, there are options. Several years ago, my youngest daughter introduced me to Desert Island Discs, BBC interviews of people since 1942. You’ll find authors, actors, celebrities, professors, etc. discussing their lives and work and what they’d take with them to listen to on a desert island. On a car trip into Vermont, we listened to Baroness Maria Von Trapp talk—a great introduction before we visited the Von Trapp family lodge in Stowe. How cool to actually hear her voice and learn some of the back story to The Sound of Music directly. My only disappointment with Desert Island Discs is that the interview with Mary Stewart, the author who inspired me to write in the first place, was unavailable. However, searching the internet, I found a video interview with Mary Stewart where she says, “I don’t think anything comes easy in writing.” Isn’t that the truth!

I’m also a quote junky and find inspiration from what other people have said. Years ago, I started with my own copy of Bartlett’s Familiar Quotations. I moved on to writing down quotes I read or heard in talks. I’ve searched the internet for them. I find Twitter is a good source, too. I like #MotivationMonday #amwriting. @PSLiterary often shares some great ones. Here are a few favorite quotes:

“Keep writing, keep faith in the idea that you have unique stories to tell, and tell them.” – Robin Hobb

“WRITING TIP: When you hear that merciless voice in your head screaming that you suck at writing, simply say: ‘Let’s have this conversation later. I am busy writing.’ Then go back to writing.” – Keidi Keating

“You’ll get times when you feel like the literary bridesmaid, always smiling at everyone else’s book wedding. That’s because we focus on the ones who’ve got what we want. But trust me, there’s other bridesmaids like us & one day our wedding days are gonna be THE event of the year!” – Kate Foster

“Comparing yourself to others can suck joy out of creating. Find your own pace, savor the journey.” – Debbie Ridpath Ohi

To close, Lao Tzu said, “Being deeply loved by someone gives you strength, while loving someone deeply gives you courage.”

I so agree. I’ve saved my best inspiration for last—my husband. He has been supportive of my writing in so many ways. I wish all writers could have a spouse or significant other like him.

SM Ford writes fiction and nonfiction. When she was thirteen, Sue got hooked on Mary Stewart’s romantic suspense books. Sue has been an eclectic reader as long as she can remember. She loves assisting other writers on their journeys and is a writing teacher, speaker, mentor, and blogger about writing.

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