In my last post, I talked about how inspiration is everywhere. While that is absolutely true, sometimes it’s helpful to shock your brain out of the ordinary to help you think in terms of the extraordinary. I call this “inspiration kindling.” Kindling alone will not sustain a fire, but it will get the firewood burning. Here are a few places where I find my inspiration kindling.
Paint chips and crayon colors
I took a poetry writing seminar my freshman year of college, and at one point the professor brought in a stack of paint chips, the sort you find at hardware stores. Paint comes in a whole myriad of colors, and paint companies have to come up with names that distinguish “blue” from “slightly lighter blue.” Some of these names are pretty mundane, but a lot of them excite the imagination. Like “white sapphire,” “Arabian veil,” and “Salem State University Black.”
Crayon colors are a similar source of inspiration. Crayola has all of their 120 current crayon colors listed here, including such gems as “atomic tangerine,” “fuzzy wuzzy brown,” and “mango tango.”
This dictionary is the gold standard, including words from the obscure to the recently coined. I know a number of logophiles who shell out tons of money for the massive volumes of thin paper and tiny print, just for the sheer pleasure of browsing the words, their definitions, and their origins.
I wouldn’t call myself a logophile (I’ve read that all writers should love word puzzles and Scrabble. I think this is ridiculous, and I hope I’m right, because both bore me to tears). However, sometimes a random word can spark an idea, and when it comes to that, the above link to oed.com has you covered. On that page you can sign up for a daily email that will give you a word, its definition(s), and its origins. One of the recent words was “monkey parade,” defined as “an evening promenade of young people, esp. for the purpose of meeting members of the opposite sex.” How wonderfully evocative is that? It gives me two mental images right off the bat. One of the scantily clad young women swarming the New Haven streets, seeking a night of clubbing and drinking that would make Ke$sha blush. The other is a parade of actual monkeys dressed in silk and lace and frills, trying to be attractive and alluring but still unable to act like anything but monkeys.
Podcasts are wonderful. You can download them onto your laptop, iPod, or phone, and listen to them at your leisure. Often people listen to the longer ones during their commute, which is a great way to use that time if you’re driving or if the noise of a train or bus is prohibitive of reading or writing.
I listen to three podcasts regularly. The Writer’s Almanac is a daily podcast that fills five minutes with historical facts, often about writers, but also about other things that happened on that day, like the launch of Voyager 2 (it carried a gold record of information on the human race, which at the time, during the Cold War, was thought to possibly be the only trace of humanity that would remain in the universe after nuclear annihilation) and the anniversary of the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand (which succeeded despite a string of staggering incompetence). After the historical facts there’s a poem (this is my favorite). I listen to The Writer’s Almanac in the mornings as I get dressed.
Sound Opinions is a podcast of the weekly NPR radio show. It’s not directly writing related, but it does turn me on to music I might not have otherwise discovered, and I find that music is also a rich source of inspiration. For instance, my recently published piece “The Perfect Waltz” was inspired by “Coin-Operated Boy” by The Dresden Dolls.
Welcome to Night Vale. Ah. I’m going to wax poetic about this bi-monthly podcast, because it is incredible, wonderful, fantastic, and everyone should experience its brilliance. The podcast is a purported local radio news show for the small desert community of Night Vale, where the city council is composed of people in hooded robes who make announcements by speaking in unison. Where the secrets of the universe can be found in the lights that hover over the local Arby’s. Where the dog park should not be entered. Or looked at. Or thought about. The podcast is an inspired mix of Lovecraft and Lake Woebegone, and has so much to offer a writer. The characters are well-drawn and believable, the plots are compelling, the humor is masterful, and, most importantly, every single thing about Night Vale is conveyed through words. You know what the town looks like, from the glow cloud, to the mysterious obelisk that attracts cats, to Carlos, sweet Carlos, with his perfect hair. It is also at times so profound that I have to dig out my notebook and scribble down quotes. “Regret is trying to avoid something that has already happened,” and “There is a thin semantic line between weird and beautiful, and that line is covered in jellyfish.” I listen to Welcome to Night Vale while I wait in the car line to pick my kids up from school. Maybe that’s why the teachers and other parents give me such strange looks…
There are many more sources of inspiration kindling! What’s your favorite?