ShortbreadStories: The Blog

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Shortbreader Inspiration: Inspiration or Inspire Ration?

/by Andy Bottomley/

Why is it when someone asks ‘What inspires you?’ a grey fog of nothingness descends, the normally fertile mind goes blank, and where speech once flowed, silence screams? I really do not know because inspiration is an illusive, fragile, multi-coloured butterfly that can take off and go as easily as it arrives.

Perhaps we should look at the converse, we as writers are ‘inspiring’. Is that where inspiration comes from? From other writers or maybe we inspire other writers to write. We as writers are, by all accounts, inspired beings. We stimulate the imagination; we draw pictures with words – words that are then displayed on the canvas of media for others to read.

I have been asked to look at how I am inspired and to be honest if I look at the canon of work I have posted on Shortbread, I have to say I really do not know where the inspiration comes from. I am not one of those people who have loads of ideas in their head all clambering to be heard, anymore than I have a reel of film constantly playing in the cinema of my mind. I think about other things, other things that don’t make up stories – or do they?

Sometimes they do.

Take for example my piece entitled ‘The Beetle Lady’, a tale that recalls the exploits of an elderly shoplifter who with steel toed shoes and a lead lined handbag goes about her regular binge of uplifting items from stores she visits. It’s a piece of nonsense that came about after a spot of people watching in the store that loves to tell you that it’s ‘Yours’. The lady in question walked in, meekly followed by her husband, and having gained her bearings started to rifle through the rails of clothing, seemingly only be interested in black items. The shoes and the handbag came later but the inspiration came merely by watching.

For me inspiration comes through observation, observation that has been viewed through the prism of imagination – and that’s probably true for many us. We see something, something goes ping, the creative juices start to flow and before we know it two and two are adding up, and because we’re not journalists the end result can be far greater than four. What we are talking about here is synergy, where the outcome is greater than the sum of the parts. In other words, as writers we see something and then something else happens that takes the ordinary off into the extra-ordinary world of storytelling.

Another place where inspiration can be found is in the ‘challenge’. Writing groups are good at throwing these little wobblers out once in a while. From experience, when asked to do something I usually struggle, especially when I’m asked to write a song on a given subject, but then on occasions, inspiration wields its wand and off we go. It may take time but we’ll get there.

Recently I was inspired by a challenge thrown by a fellow ShortbreadStories author who, having read a couple of my stories, noted that one or two stories involved a mirror and that others had fairies in them. The challenge was made – write a story about fairies and mirrors. The experience was a good one, and before I knew it a story for which I had neither inclination nor inspiration had been written. It’s a funny old thing inspiration.

The trouble with inspiration can be the total lack of it. I know of people who are perfectly capable of writing and of writing well, their problem however is that they simply do not know what to write about, and that is an absolute killer. Sometimes inspiration can so easily display that illusive quality of the butterfly where ideas float in the breeze of thought but refuse to settle. They will waltz and twist but will not allow themselves to bask in the sunshine of creativity and that can be downright annoying. It happens, and when it does, then maybe its time to do something else. If a story refuses to be told, then for me it is time for the factual to be written.

I often write about nature, its observational stuff, factual – no flights of fancy here. What I see is what you get. Inspiration in that instance is not given free reign; for there are times when we need to show it who’s boss. It is, however, a two-way street where the observations made in writing factual pieces make the short trip into the world of fiction, where the knowledge gleaned in one can be put to good use as background and description in the other. As I said, it’s a funny old thing, inspiration.

Without doubt this short piece will not change the world. I doubt it will even inspire that many, but inspiration is not a commodity that can be bottled. It is not something one can teach another, it is not even something we can say we’ve got. It is, however, something that visits us, something that can settle within us, giving us the writer a sense that there is no other option than to write what we must write. Sometimes inspiration will challenge us to write things we don’t usually write: a different genre, horror instead of comedy. That is when inspiration becomes inspirational, when the act of writing is greater than merely the transfer of thought into words. Inspiration has a birthright and, as writers, we are the ones who have the privilege and duty of delivering that message. That for me is both exciting and inspirational.  

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