We’re kicking off a new series this month, a spotlight feature that poses writing-related questions to our team. We hope you enjoy learning more about our team through this series, as well as getting a variety of solutions to common or tricky problems that every writer faces. In this inaugural edition, we asked the team the following question:
Where do you go for inspiration as a writer?
Emily Fahey (Fiction/Poetry) – I’m much more interested in character-driven than plot-driven story lines. I come from a family of teachers and mental health counselors, so human emotions and motivations are very interesting to me. I try to use real life as much as possible for my inspiration. I watch people’s interactions, how they react in stressful or unexpected situations, how pain/stress/joy/love manifest in both their words and their physical body. I also read A LOT, which has helped me develop a discerning eye for really good books. My favorite college professor once told me that if you want to improve as a writer and you have the option to spend either a year just reading or a year just writing, take the reading option. I’ve taken that to heart—sometimes to the detriment of my writing practice—but it is advice that has served me well. I also seek out films and TV shows that employ really good writing. I’m revealing my nerdy side here, but Star Trek: Picard is the most recent show I binge-watched, and it was an excellent study in character development!
Rachel Sandell (Fiction) – I come from a background of storytelling. During road trips, my dad would entertain us kids with tall tales about a plucky young woman and a rogue fighter pilot; right before bed, he would use my stuffed animals to concoct elaborate plots and backstories full of twists and turns. My early life was steeped in stories, so as soon as I was able to pick up a pen, I started writing. For me, creating fiction is as much about connection as it is about having fun making things up. I grew up homeschooled and disconnected from others in a lot of ways. I spent most of my time engrossed in books from the local library, stuck in someone else’s world. But learning how to tell and share stories has led me to grow and find my true inspiration: people. Being connected with people is one of the most fulfilling parts of life. The act of sharing experiences with others across both distance and time allows our perspectives to reach people we could never otherwise reach, and, likewise, they reach us. This is, to me, the most inspiring way to write: by listening to the stories of others.
Andrew McDiarmid (Nonfiction/Poetry/Podcasting) – My nonfiction writing on technology, parenting, and cultural topics often begins with an article I read in a newspaper or online source. My poetry (when I actually get the chance to write some!) is usually inspired by something I’ve been thinking more deeply about for a while. Ideas for new (scripted) podcasts generally come from listener suggestions or from a list I keep of episode ideas. In general, I get inspired to write and create by books I’m reading or movies I watch. Being productive and getting things done can also give me feelings of inspiration and enthusiasm that I might not otherwise get. And let’s not forget mood! Keeping a positive attitude about life can help me stay open to the prodding of the muse, which can come at any hour of the day or night!
Karly White (Fiction/Poetry/Creative Nonfiction) – My biggest inspiration is probably both the world and environment around me, especially for creative nonfiction and poetry, whether it’s a beautiful walk in nature or a rage against injustice. For fiction, honestly, it’s probably reading. I think for writers in any genre, reading is really important to the craft. Other types of art (especially music) can also be sources of inspiration for my fiction writing, as I often want to add context to a particular lyric or picture that forms in my head.
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Zach Wolfe Martin (Fiction) – I grew up in a house of lies. My mother was a novelist and my dad a screenwriter, so storytelling has always been a part of my world. Today, I draw inspiration for my fiction (especially my science fiction) from my overactive imagination and from my favorite authors. Ursula K. Le Guin wrote in her introduction to The Left Hand of Darkness that a novelist’s job is to use fiction to expose the hidden parts of reality, to write down a pack of lies and say, “There! That’s the truth!” Science fiction, Le Guin argues, is not about predicting the future, but about thinking more deeply about the present. Writing for me is a thought experiment—a way to answer my own what-ifs, and in doing so, more closely examine the time I’ve spent in this world. “The artist,” Le Guin writes, “deals with what cannot be said in words. The artist whose medium is fiction does this in words. The novelist says in words what cannot be said in words.” I write because somewhere, intermingled with all my experiences, every book I’ve read, every TV show and movie I’ve watched, every dream I’ve had, there’s something that cannot be put into words—some hidden truth about myself and the world around me waiting to be revealed. “Fiction writers,” Le Guin writes, “at least in their braver moments, do desire the truth: to know it, speak it, serve it.” Writing has always been in my life, and it has been many things to me. But when I ask myself why I keep writing, here’s the answer: I write lies to find the truth.
Kriste Solomon (Humor/Op-Ed) – People have often told me that I should write a book. Usually this follows a humorous anecdote about one of my children or some quirky idea that I shared on social media. Comical scenarios and dialogue inspire me greatly! I tend to visualize words when I hear or read them, and often these visualizations are hysterically funny to me. I write about them so others can see what I see. Really, it’s about sharing and wanting people to laugh with (and sometimes at) me. On the other hand, I am often motivated and inspired to write on serious topics that I feel passionately about, such as social justice or education practices. These are the soapbox topics that keep me up at night—mind racing, heart pumping, and words churning. Pulitzer and Nobel Prize winner Saul Bellow said, “You never have to change anything you got up in the middle of the night to write.” The things of this nature that I have written seemed to write themselves.
Hannah Comerford (Creative Nonfiction/Fiction/Poetry) – The novelist Flannery O’Connor said, “I write because I don’t know what I think until I read what I say.” For me, writing has often been about processing emotions and thoughts that I can’t articulate in any other way. This may result in something borderline silly, such as a poem about a potted plant that’s stayed alive despite my constant neglect, or it may result in something more deeply personal, such as a reflection on a medical emergency. These thoughts and emotions are triggered by all sorts of things—books, news stories, tragedies, everyday life—but I can communicate them through the written word much better than if I were to simply talk it out. And in the process, I just might find that I do know what I feel and think.
We hope our collective experiences as writers have helped you glean some inspiration for your own writing. Stay tuned for the next edition of this series, where we’ll tackle the following question:
What is your toughest hurdle in making time to write, and how do you address it?