Hi again, Everyone! Marcia popping in from the Land of Sunshine. Lately, I’ve been thinking about creativity, specifically, how much of it is inspiration and how much is perspiration–especially as it pertains to those of us who write.
Being a writer is hard work. We devote countless hours to our craft in hopes that the stories we tell will touch the hearts of our readers. Or make them laugh. Or teach them something new. But what is it that stirs us to create a certain character who looks or acts in a specific way? Or urges us to show our readers exactly what autumn in the Blue Ridge Mountains looks like? And how do we find the inspiration necessary to start our tales, continue the journey with our characters, and arrive at satisfactory–or possibly even happy–endings for our novels?
Obviously, we are each inspired by many different things, but I’d like to talk about one of my favorite and most helpful writing tools: The Inspiration Board. Yes, that’s a thing. (Okay, I made it up as far as I know, but it’s still a thing, at least for the duration of this post. Bear with me.)
Have you ever heard anyone say, “A picture is worth a thousand words?” Of course you have, and there’s a reason this expression, or some variation of thereof, is repeated so often. It’s true. A single image can convey so much more than one or two or yes, even a thousand words, and do it more rapidly, as well. After all, even the greatest of writers can’t match the speed of the human imagination, which images can send soaring in mere seconds.
In addition, visuals can trigger very specific ideas, memories, and dreams for each viewer, multiplying their effect even more. How many well-known books have been written thanks to the author’s imagination being stirred by a particular painting or photograph? You have to wonder. (No, seriously. You have to! It’s the whole point of this post.) 😀
For me, it works like this. When I write, I surround myself with images that keep me focused on where I’m going, who I’m going with, and how we’re going to get there. I’m happiest amid interesting or beautiful photographs and books, anyway, and I always do my best work when I’m happy.
Happy is good.
I write at home at a desk my husband built into a set of floor-to-ceiling bookshelves. This means the desktop is enclosed on three sides which I have covered with cork. This may not be an option for some of you, but you could hang a bulletin board on a wall, perhaps, or put a protective piece of glass or plastic on your desktop to slip pictures under. Either of those would work fine to stir your imagination, or remind you who the folks in your book are.
Now, I’m a people person at heart, so I tend to write character-driven books. I’ve found that if I have a clear image of what I think a particular character looks like, it helps me build the personality, strengths, quirks, and hang-ups I want that character to project. If I’m writing about a little boy lost in the wilderness, I find a face that embodies him just the way I imagine, print it out, and tack it to my cork board. Once he’s right there in front of me, it becomes vastly easier to keep his little face in my mind as I write.
Of course, this doesn’t mean that all readers will envision my characters exactly the way I do, but that’s not necessarily important for my Inspiration Board. What is important in my work area is something that helps me remain constant while writing about these people. They need to feel real to me before I can make them seem real to readers, and thanks to the photos on my cork boards, they feel very real to me, indeed.
One of the first things I do when starting a new book or series is go on a hunt for pictures that look the way I imagine my characters do. Movie stars, models, musicians, or ordinary folks—it doesn’t matter. If I find the perfect face, I grab it. It’s kind of like casting a film, so I scroll through pictures until one jumps out at me, and I go, yes! And if my aforementioned little boy lost is looking for the man his Gran said would have “eyes like winter skies, an’ hair like a crow’s wing,” then that’s exactly who I pin to my board. From then on, when I’m writing about MacKenzie Cole, he’s posted directly in front of me.
I print out these pictures from various online magazines and the like and thumbtack them to my bulletin board, so that every time I glance up from my work, all of them are looking back at me. After that, it’s a matter of Rinse & Repeat, until my cork boards are covered with the characters from my North Carolina series or the ones who live in that little town here in Central Florida. By the way, I do get that this harks back to my teenage years when my bedroom walls were plastered with pictures of Elvis and James Dean (told you I’m OLD!) but even so, it’s been one of my most effective inspirational tools.
And if one character in my WIP thinks another character looks just like Thor, then you can bet I’ll be pinning up a picture or two of Chris Hemsworth. (Trust me. Chris is VERY inspiring!) And he helps me keep my physical descriptions constant as I go, too.
But it isn’t all just pretty faces, you know. I also enjoy putting my readers into the middle of each scene, so they feel like they are standing right beside Rabbit, Mac, or Gunnar Wolfe as events unfold. Therefore, habitat and setting are very important to me, as well. I pin up pictures of everything from log cabins to elegant mountaintop retreats, to historic sites, to wooded glades, waterfalls, sunlit beaches, and island resorts. If it’s a scene in my WIP, it has a place on my Inspiration Board, where it allows me to envision exactly where my characters live, work, and relax.
Pets are included in these pictures, too. I like giving my characters animals to share their lives, because I think their choices in furry or feathered (or scaled!) companions help tell readers a bit more about who they are. Consequently, my Inspiration boards also include photos of red and white tabbies, Norwegian forest cats, dachshunds, Quaker parrots, and Mac’s beloved Irish wolfhound, Rosheen.
Heck, even albino and leucistic reptiles make the cut. Big Blue has been a part of my bulletin board for years now.
Here’s a shot of the board on the left end of my desk. These are the kinds things that make me happy, and that keep my characters in my mind while I work, including ivory-billed woodpeckers and albino rattlesnakes. Naturally, you’d likely have totally different images on a cork board of your own. Write sci-fi? Maybe space ships or high-tech gadgetry, or even ray guns and aliens. A sketch of a world on another planet could work. Fantasy writer? I’d imagine dragons or wizards or again, a sketch of the world you’re creating.
Anything and everything that inspires you to produce your best work is worth pinning to your own cork boards or displaying nearby in some other way. I’m very fond of crows, and several of my favorite books feature them on the covers. When I found the crow bookends, it seemed only natural to create a display of crows on the shelf directly above my monitor. They make me smile, and though I haven’t included crows in one of my books to date, I’ve suddenly found myself inspired to do so for some reason. 😀 Go figure. 😀
Don’t forget the value of personal photos as inspiration, too. Family portraits, perhaps? Children and grandkids are always good for a boost in spirit. Even fresh flowers from the garden can make you smile and provide a spark for your creativity. Be selective with the things you choose to surround your work area. They can make more of a difference than you might imagine.
The bottom line is, I believe if it lifts your spirits, makes you smile, or reminds you of the people and places you’re writing about, it’s all good. And if it should happen that the heroine of your book thinks the guy she just met is a dead ringer for Thor, I say go with it. A few Vikingly pictures on your Inspiration Board won’t hurt a thing, no matter what my—I mean, YOUR—spouse thinks.
That’s my story, an’ I’m stickin’ to it!
Now it’s your turn. Do you have an Inspiration Board or something similar of your own? Or perhaps you have other things near your writing spot that inspire your work or stimulate your creativity? Take a moment to tell us about them, because as always, inquiring minds wanna know!
Thanks for stopping by today! Don’t forget to check in often to see what the rest of the SE gang is talking about. And I’ll be back in a couple of weeks with something new to share, too. In the meantime, please stay safe, stay well, and stay home! Here’s wishing each of us all kinds of inspiration as we go forth to write with happy–and thoroughly inspired— hearts.
All images above were created by me or obtained from Pixabay.