Finding Inspiration: A Beginning Writer’s Guide to Data Mining the Universe

Peace in an Age of Metal and Men Cover
Peace comes to Texas

From now until Peace in an Age of Metal and Men comes out on June 7, I am writing a series of posts on writing, science fiction, and the creative process.


Sometimes great heaps of it pile up everywhere. It floats in the air and bombards from every angle. When that happens, writing is easy. It’s fast. It’s tasty. It’s good.

When inspiration isn’t abundant?

Well, that’s when writing is tough. The hobbyist can stop here. That’s fine. Anyone trying to write a whole book, though, needs to press further. Dig deep into the earth and extract that golden nugget of inspiration.

*looks expectantly at you until you start digging*

Look, all of the inspiration that I know of is buried under the old concrete patio in my back yard. You’re going to need to bust through it before we get started.


Fine. Here are some places I go to find inspiration when I need it:

  • Running. Need a batshit insane idea? Try running a few miles. There’s a distance, some magical distance, where the brain clicks into… I don’t even know what to call it. Crazy? Yeah, that sounds about right. Blood rushes oxygen to the brain and problems get solved.
  • TV. What? No. Um, I mean, reading classical literature. Yeah, that’s it. Really, though, TV is great. Breaking Bad is a great example of solid storytelling, but don’t stop there! Turn is a very good show. The first season of The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt. Sherlock. There are great shows out there. Don’t just watch them. Dissect them. Figure out why they work. Movies work, too. Whenever you enjoy a show, figure it out. Take the pieces that are the best. Use them to inspire and inform your own work.
  • Nature. Don’t just walk in the woods. Look at things closer than you normally would. See the bugs, the trees. Poke that thing that looks like it might be a cluster of hundreds and hundreds of spiders oh my god don’t really do that what have you done let’s get out of here!
  • People watching. And listening. And following around the mall for no good reason. You know what? Inspiration is creepy sometimes. It’s not my fault. Getting arrested might be a good source of inspiration, too. I don’t know.
  • Volunteer. I volunteer with the Red Cross. You know why? Because I like helping people. And… Also because being on the Disaster Action Team gets me close to the action. I can see how people deal with tragedy. It informs my writing in a way that clicking on websites doesn’t. It also makes me really paranoid about my smoke detectors.
  • Landscaping. Wanna know when inspiration likes to strike the hardest? Right when you’re in the middle of some goddamn huge project in the back yard. You know, the one where you absolutely have to finish in one day or the rain’s going to hit and wash out the whole landscape? Bam! Perfect novel idea. You’re welcome. Now finish putting down those patio pavers.
  • Hobbies. Pick whatever you like. I brew beer, pick locks, garden, and now photograph. Every time I get out into the world and try something new, I find inspiration in it.

Want to know the real answer, though? Sometimes a writer needs to sit down and write. To hell with inspiration. When the words need to be stacked on top of words, it’s the writer’s job to do it.

Good luck out there.

*hands you a pen-shovel*

Get digging.

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