I’m back in front of the computer this week after a few weeks break. My book about the Battle of Fromelles went off to the printers two weeks ago. Now I am starting to think about what I will write next.
I get quite a few letters and emails from people wanting to know where I get my inspiration from. As I am looking for inspiration myself, I thought I might do a blog about it. I’m sure it’s different for other authors, but this is what it’s like for me.
As I’ve said in my FAQs, I get inspiration for my stories from everywhere eg. Kai’s personality came from a dog we once had; the dog in Dragon Dawn was inspired, not by a real dog, but a picture of a dog sculpture from a Han tomb; the village of Wucheng in Dragonkeeper was inspired by me lying in bed in a hotel in Tokyo one morning and listening to the absolute quiet outside, apart from two huge crows squawking.
For me, inspiration doesn’t come like a lightning bolt with the whole book worked out from beginning to end. It comes in tiny pieces that I fit together like a jigsaw puzzle. Each book is a result of hundreds of those little moments of inspiration.
Sometimes it doesn’t come at all. I don’t sit around and wait until it arrives, I’d never have written a single book if I did that. I search for it. I read books. I listen to people. I look at trees, the sky, the river.
I was once given a writer’s notebook as a gift, it contained quotes from famous authors. There were a couple that I remember.
“You can’t wait for inspiration. You have to go after it with a club.” Jack London, 1876-1916, American novelist.
“Ideas come very easily to you, incessantly, like a stream. With me, it is a tiny thread of water. Hard labour at art is necessary for me before obtaining a waterfall.” Gustave Flaubert, 1821-1880, French novelist
Those quotes made me realise that it was alright if my ideas didn’t arrive fully fledged. They inspired me to work at it, to brainstorm with myself for days, weeks, months, until the whole story is clear.
Sometimes I get letters from people who say, “Can you give me some inspiration.” The answer is no. Inspiration is something you have to find yourself. Something that inspires one person, will hardly be noticed by another. You have to learn to collect up the drips of inspiration until you have a bucketful.
You’ve then got to convert it into a story, a book. I always resort to sporting analogies (sorry). Since it’s cricket season, I’ll use that. A world-class cricketer may have been inspired when he/she was young by watching another cricketer play. But being inspired isn’t enough. He/she then has to work hard to become a good cricketer themselves. If they want to be a spin bowler, they spend hours and hours in the nets, year after year. They play many games of cricket. They also have to develop other skills, so they also spend hours practising catching, trying to hit the stumps etc.
Inspiration is only the beginning of any achievement. Then it’s time to do the work. Yourself. No one is going to do it for you.