Anyone who is participating in NaNo undoubtedly is well underway in their project and knows what they are writing about. It may have been a rough start for some, but somehow a fire got lit and now they're going like a house ablaze--at least one would hope. However others just never got started, perhaps with that age old complaint of not being able to find their muse.
I've always found the term of "finding my muse" to be a bit silly. Perhaps because of its origins in ancient Greece where the muses were essentially goddesses who delivered inspirations for ideas to those in the creative arts. I suppose it's a bit poetic, but in practical terms it's utter nonsense. Any writer who sits around waiting for special delivery of an inspiring idea to come via a muse needs to cruise to another profession in my opinion. Writing should come from within you so it does require some effort on your part.
Now, I'm not going to get into any scientific or philosophical theories about where inspiration comes from--books have been written about this topic and I'm just going to do a short blog post. These are just my thoughts. I want to tell you how I find inspiration to come up with topics to write about, then maybe you can tell us how you get inspired with writing ideas. I will be using my current NaNo project, Time Light, as my example.
The Genre: Before you come up with a story it helps to know what general genre you plan to approach. In my case I decided beforehand that I was going to write a science fiction novel. Since my favorite sub-genre is time and interdimensional travel I decided to concentrate on something related to that. This sense of focus allowed me to start visualizing mental pictures and scenarios related to these concepts. I like old buildings. I decided that I wanted my story to revolve around a setting of an old building. Once all of these elements were in place I let my imagination run with them.
The Spark: My usual modus operandi in coming up with an idea, or at least setting my course, has been to draw upon news stories, anecdotes someone has told me, something I've observed, or a quote. For my two NaNo submissions I have used Bible quotes to get the story started. In the case of Time Light, I used a verse that I heard in the sermon at the church I attend the day before I was to begin my project. That quote came from John 1:1-18 and most specifically the verse that says, "He himself was not the light; he came only as a witness to the light". The "he" in this verse is John the Baptist--my main character became John Proffitt, who witnesses the light coming out of an old building. The light that he sees is what I decided to call the "Time Light". I now had a main character and a title. The story began to flow freely from there.
The Kindling: Just as any fire needs kindling in order to get started, a story needs to have details thrown in to get it going. For Time Light I started with my setting. The way my vision was shaping I wanted a city. I had lived in the Chicago area in the mid sixties so I decided to use this as the time and place for the story. I studied the Illinois and Chicago maps in my road atlas and started researching mid-sixties Chicago on the internet. From there I just started making connections and drawing up additional ideas from what I was reading. The Chicago of 1965 was starting to take shape in my mind and on the page. The daily activities of my main character and the people he meets started to flow easily.
The Fire: Once the kindling has been set ablaze with the spark, the fire has to be fed and be kept under control. As I have been writing Time Light, I have seen how this story can go in many directions. It could be the start of a series of novels. Right now my focus has been on John Proffitt in 1965 Chicago having witnessed a light from an old building and his mission to find out what it means and do something about it. I am staying centered on this story, with an awareness that other stories could follow. I have to be sure I don't get sidetracked and allow my story's fire to get out of control.
Since I like to write with music, I like to choose something that will help fuel the fire and keep me in a proper writing mood. My preference is classical music because I find it to be less distracting and it's almost like a movie soundtrack at times. While writing Time Light I have been going through the cycle of the nine symphonies of Anton Bruckner. This music is intense and majestic, yet unobtrusive. I will listen to one symphony several times throughout the writing day and continue on with the next symphony the following day. Music varies with us all, and classical works best for me.
I have not done a formal outline for my story. The general idea has been in my head from the beginning. At the outset I wrote the opening and the closing of the novel so I would have a pretty good idea of where I was going with the story. Then I began writing chronologically in order to maintain control of the story. The more that wrote, the faster the story began coming so that I've had to list the main points of the novel within the body of the document. As I come to each point I expand that part of the story. In essence, the story is done, I just have to finish writing the rest of it. I believe my story's fire is under control.
A Final Thought: Lest anyone have a misconception about Time Light, it is not a Christian novel in the sense of the type of book that would be classified as Christian literature. It has been inspired by a verse out of the Bible but other than that a reader who was not aware of my explanation would probably not relate the novel to the Bible. However, because of the author's beliefs the story espouses Christian values. And so far I've kept the language clean.
So this is the way I'm doing things. How about you--what works and what doesn't? Do you try any of the methods I use or do you have a different approach? Are there any Bruckner fans out there?