An old, primary definition of inspiration is that it is the act of drawing air into the lungs. Inspiration in the artistic sense follows from this old definition: elevating influence, creative influence of genius; being imbued with ideas proceeding from a source of knowledge. There is also the religious sense of inspiration, the idea that the words of the Gospels were breathed into the authors by the Holy Ghost; the supernatural influence of the Holy Spirit on sacred writers and teachers.
Writers of fiction are especially liable to be asked questions regarding the source of their ideas.
“What inspired you to write that?” one might ask.
When I was in high school, my father asked me regarding a story I had written, “What brought that on?” in a somewhat dubious way.
“Where do you get your ideas?” is a frequent iteration of the question.
When asked, my thoughts often stray to a scene from Star Trek: The Next Generation. I don’t recall the exact episode or even the season, but Data was painting and Geordi was watching. Data paused and looked away. Geordi asked him what he was doing, to which Data replied, “I am awaiting inspiration.” The remembrance makes me smile every time, because I don’t recall ever standing and awaiting inspiration, myself. My answer to the question is often, “I don’t really remember.” I write the story that follows the inspiration, but I do not usually record the stream of thought that led to it, thus the germ is often lost in the process. But, there are some stories whose genesis I do recall. My novelette, A Bag Full of Eyes, was chiefly inspired by the way in which my wife told me she was putting in or taking out her contact lenses mornings and evenings.
“Hey, honey, look at this,” I would say.
To which she would reply, “Hold on, I’m putting/taking my eyes in/out.”
Such utterances made in the presence of a fiction writer are liable to inspire a story. Thus was born the story of Victor, the Eye man, a magical forensics expert whose profession is the preservation of the eyes of murder victims so that they may be inserted into the sockets of investigators so that their last visions may be seen again. The exact train of thought I do not recall, but the question, “Why would someone take people’s eyes out of their heads anyway?” did get asked.
The featured image of this post is an iron alligator that sits in the back yard of a house in Cordova, TN. When I worked for another spray company, the yard in which the iron alligator is situated was in my regular service area. I saw the house, the yard, and the iron alligator about seven times a year for eight years and four months. At some point, several years ago, I was invited to write for a Steampunk anthology, and was wracking my head for ideas. I was pondering the question of what to write while I was out treating lawns, and there was the iron alligator of which I was rather fond. I’d had the vague notion for sometime that it needed a story, and I thought then that a mechanical alligator might be an interesting character in Steampunk story. Shortly thereafter, the threatening fellow was in my head explaining to someone that he was going to eat her.
Frank, the iron alligator, clanked into the arboretum, stopped with his tail still partly outside, and rolled his eyes over to regard Elizabeth where she sat on a bench, book in hand. She looked up and smiled at him, and he said nothing.
Finally, she asked, “Frank?”
He opened his jaws, showing off his rows of teeth, and said, “When they are dead, and their hold over us is gone, I will eat you. I will let the dogs eat their corpses, but the fresh meat of you, I reserve for myself.” Then he backed out the door, turned around, and clanked away down the gravel path.
The story was written, revised, and submitted in not too long a period of time. Later, it was enthusiastically accepted. The project then fell through, because the market for Steampunk anthologies tanked. Such is the world of publishing. The story is languishing now, not quite appropriate for other story calls I have seen. I keep looking. I’d love to have it out.
I’d like to say that my story ideas all come from a high source, that I was contemplating the Gospels or philosophy and was thereby inspired to write. I’d even like to say that I am inspired to write by deeply moving occurrences in my life, but frankly most of my ideas do not come from such elevated or deep places. They are more often mere, random associations that come to me as I daydream while spraying yards or some such other mundane, physical activity. I’m not even sure that “inspiration” isn’t too lofty a word for how I come up with my ideas.
I cannot speak for other fiction writers, but as for myself, there you have it.