Thursday, February 28, 2008


by Suzanne Welsh

One of the things people ask writers the most is, "where do you come up with these ideas?" I heard someone say once, "Oh, I just go to the Big Book Of Ideas and flip through the pages until I find one I like." Smart alec answer, so of course I loved it! But the truth is inspiration can come in many forms and in many ways. Here are some of mine.

Richard Sharpe. I loved this mini series on BBC America two summers ago! OMG...Sean Bean in period clothing. I love his intensity, his honor that stands out among the hardships of being at war in a foreign country and oh heck, he's just easy on the eyes.

At the time I was also submitting scenes to the Avon FanLit contest. The period was Regency, not my specialty, but I felt I had a handle on the Penninsular War hero after watching this series. So, of course, I started a Regency period book with a hero loosely based on Sean Bean as Richard Sharpe. Still working on it, and it seems to be a bit darker than the regular Regency books

Another source of inspiration is women in American History. This is one of my favorite characters, Clara Barton. I first read Clara's biography when I was in elementary school. My mom was studying to be a nurse, so I found duel interest in Miss Barton's life story. She took supplies to the battlefield of Antietem and found the surgeons wrapping men's wounds in corn husks. (ewww, the infection meter in my head just went off again!). Imagine their immense relief when this woman of courage showed up with bandages, medical supplies, blankets and lanterns! (Women are always thinking ahead.)

Clara inspired the budding nurse in me, but she wasn't the only woman in American history who inspired me. Rebecca Boone followed her husband by foot through the Cumberland Gap in the Appalchia mountains into a place called Kan-tuck-ee--a land of wilderness and unknown enemies. She helped him carve out a home and lead more settlers west. She and other pioneer women of courage inspired me to learn more and write stories about their time periods.

And then there's my hometown, Columbus, Ohio. Beautiful isn't it? I've set all my contemporary stories here or near here. I love the people here. Hard working people, who sometimes have extordinary things happen that change their lives. And the country side is so beautiful it makes me want to share it with people who've never been there. I also get to use the subtleness of an ordinary city as the background to some suspenseful elements, so the juxtaposition is great!
So what inspires you to write, create or to succeed in life?


Helen said...

I back in Austrlia
Have Fun

Anna Campbell said...

Hey, how can this be???!!! That GR was mine. I've been hovering like a chicken hawk waiting to nab him. Helen, you wotten wooster nabber, you! Be good to him.

I'm away for the next ten days so it's probably best if I don't have him, though. Don't want him turning into a latchkey rooster, do we?

Suz, love your post (not just because of the pretty picture of SB). The funny thing about inspiration is that for me, it really does come from everywhere. I can sometimes point to specific things that set off part of a story. But the whole story? Nah. One of the nice things about this writing gig is that I genuinely think you do get better at it as you get older just because you've got a larger pool of life experience to draw on. Much kinder on people over 40 than ballet dancing, for example!

flchen1 said...

Woohoo, congrats, Helen!

Susan, that's a gorgeous photo of Columbus! I always liked reading about amazing women in history, too--I think one of my first book reports was on Clara Barton! (That was eons ago!)

Seeing beautiful things inspires me to create my own--the gorgeous things God made outside, or the work of other talented people's hands. Though I'm not much of a nature girl (too squeamish about bugs and wet dirt?), I love visiting national parks (we toured Bryce and Zion several years ago--SO amazing) and especially love waterfalls, even if only in photos. And I really enjoy seeing other people's handiwork--from quilting to calligraphy (Timothy Botts is incredible!)

But that's a little different than what I think my root motivation is for wanting success in life (which isn't the same as creating, at least for me). For the long term, I want to have made the lives I've touched better, and I ultimately want my children to be loving, productive members of their communities. So that's a little sappy, I guess ;) And I'm starting to feel just a wee bit incoherent...

flchen1 said...

Oh, so true about ballet not being terribly kind to those of us summer-ish chickens, Anna! ;)

BTW, are you going somewhere fun?

Anna Campbell said...

Fedora, love it! Summer-ish chicken! That's me. In the full bloom of my featherhood! Yeah, hitting Melbourne then a spa town then staying with some lovely friends for a couple of days. The spa town thing is a writing retreat so I'm hoping to really power out some pages.

flchen1 said...

Sweet, Anna! Hope you have a terrific trip, and may inspiration strike you right and left while you're at spa town! (No bruises though! ;))

Suzanne Welsh said...

Good morning Helen and congratulations on nabbing the GR!

Suzanne Welsh said...

Hey there Ms. are things down under?

Isn't SB yummy in that costume? I LOVED him as Richard Sharpe, the hero who wasn't perfect, all too human, but with his own sense of honor. that alpha male in him!

I agree, we as writers get to take inspiration from everything. A news item, a vacation, our friends and co-workers...other people's stories even!

Have you ever read a book and thought, "I'd handle that differently", then sat down and penned out the story your way?

Suzanne Welsh said...

Morning flchen! Glad you're here today. To this day Clara is one of my favorite characters in history. But I think besides her, the other women who weren't mentioned in history are great, too. If they didn't have as much courage and indpendent spirit as the men, half the exploration in the world never would've taken place. (Mostly because men don't ask directions or pack well)

Suzanne Welsh said...

Okay, I'm off to bed for a bit. Talk with you all later!

Helen said...

Sorry Anna but we will have fun together I will put on some Rod Stewart CD's and we will relive the night. Anna have a wonderful time you are sure to get lots of writing done.

What a lovely post Suzanne I am so glad that you writers are inspired to do what you do for us readers. Inspiration comes in so many different ways to different people whether it be a movie a book or a wonderul place. What inspires me to go to work everyday is the paycheck at the end of the week that allows me to enjoy life the way I want to.
Have Fun

Kirsten said...

Hello ladies,

Helen nice grab on the GR! And you and Fedora make lovely counterparties for inspiration--she wants her children to be productive members of society, and you're in it for that big fat paycheck! ;-) Seriously, though, I feel very similar about my day job as Helen does. I do it for the paycheck, which allows me to do other things--like spend time with my family, save for retirement, college for the kids, etc.

And I like prancing around in suits pretending to be important. Can't forget that.

Oh, but INSPIRATION! That was Suzanne's fabulous topic, right? Not me in suits? (okay, I seriously don't wear suits very often. But I do prance. Every chance I get.)

Suz, you are completely right, inspiration comes from all around. And Anna, you make a great point as well -- it seems like the more life you live, the more incredible experiences you have to draw on in your fiction.

I also draw on non-fiction sources for inspiration. The news is a great source, memoirs, anyone else an NPR listener? Fresh Air, Talk of the Nation, This American Life -- all can inspire. And religion and religious ideas are incredibly interesting. I'm researching Shamanism right now for my next YA book and there's so much stuff there it will blow you away.

Anna, we will miss you! Good luck getting lots of lovely writing done and avoiding those internet cafes!


doglady said...

Okay, Helen gets our first Wotten Wooster Nabber button!

Safe journey Anna C and I heartily agree that the years do give one layers of experience from which to draw inspiration.

Ballet? Please! NASA doesn't use as much thrust to launch the shuttle as it would take to launch my body into a pirouette!

Some of my strongest inspiration comes from the people on this blog. Every time I think about giving up on my writing I think about Anna C and how long she worked to get CTC published. It really helps to talk to people who are where I want to be or who are still trying to get there. All of the Banditas are a real inspiration to me.

Some of my characters are actually based on the pets I have had or do have. They have such a great handle on what is important in life, how to love, and how to live.

Beth said...

Suz, what a wonderful post *g*

I draw inspiration from many different things - people watching, TV shows, movies, songs, nonfiction, an interesting article in the newspaper or magazine and even my own experiences :-)

So many ideas, so little time *g* Guess I'll have to learn to write faster!

Congrats on the GR, Helen!

jo robertson said...

Poor GR, he's gonna have major jet lag. Treat him gently, Helen.

Great topic, Suz, one that is near to my heart.

I watch a LOT of TV; I mean, they should do an intervention on me. Seriously.

So a lot of my ideas come from shows that I watch, particularly the History Channel and the Discovery Channel.

I was touring the old historic courthouse in Auburn, California, (actually, I was doing jury duty, but there's a museum there too LOL) and found the idea spark for my newest WIP.

Kate Carlisle said...

Great post, Suz! That photo of SB is inspiration enough for anyone! ;-)

Great job, snatching the GR, Helen! Enjoy your day together!

I'm with Helen, I get my inspiration from that paycheck. LOL. But really, my job often gives me inspiration for stories. I'm not sure if that's because I need to get out of there so badly or if the people I work with are just that unusual! LOL.

I used to work for a group of high end divorce attorneys and believe me, those attorneys and their clients provided stories enough for ten writers!

Anna, have a blast!! We'll miss you terribly but hope you'll find much to inspire you where you're going.

Billie Jo said...

Hey Suzy,

YAY Columbus. Great post.

Since I am just a reader, the only place I get my inspiration is my wonderful hubby. He inspires me to be the best that I can be.

Hugs Sweetie.

Billie Jo

Suzanne Welsh said...

LOL Helen, the paycheck is a very mighty motivator. Once I'm at work I love being there, but getting away from my home, computer and writing takes great incentive, usually in the form of the little amount left in the checking account!

Suzanne Welsh said...

Morning Kirsten, you and my oldest daughter should hang out. She LOVES NPR. Me, I love the History chanel and CSI or NCIS or Law & Order shows....and of course any really good Hallmark movie!

(And I'm sure you are very inspiring in your suits when you MUST wear them!)

Suzanne Welsh said...

Morning, doglady! I have to agree, Anna C and some of our other Banditas inspire me to keep plugging away. Sometimes I'm just afraid I'll surpass Anna's # of years before I get "the call", but I'm sure it will be worth it.

Then there's Joan's Romans and Anna's hockey players. I'm thinking they're very inspiring!

Suzanne Welsh said...

Beth, there are millions of places to get ideas from aren't there? Songs can be one of them.

When I'm writing a love scene, I listen to a couple of different CD's, Allison Krauss and Union Station is one of my favorites, or Sade's greatest hits. A chase scene? Well what's better than Credance Clear Water Revival or the Stones? (I need hard rock for those scenes to keep things moving!)

Suzanne Welsh said...

Jo, I'd love to do jury duty where there's a historic museum!! A couple of springs ago I dragged dh into the Texas Ranger Museum in Waco, Texas. Too cool! They had actual period weapons that I could lift. Dang those things are heavy! And lots of accounts of real life man hunts and gun battles. I love their unofficial motto..."One riot, one ranger." Needless to say that trip is having an influence on my current MIP!

Suzanne Welsh said...

Morning, Kate. boy the West Coast girls are up early today! (My theory is no sane person is up before 8 AM).

Isn't SB yummy in that costume? Of course I think he's yummy in just about anything he's in! Yes very, very inspiring. (Must work on that Regency book some this week!)

And I bet you could write tons of stories given the clients you meet!! Some of my stories are best told over a glass or two of wine. :)

Suzanne Welsh said...

Hey there, Billie Jo! Have you dug out of the latest snow storm to hit Columbus yet? I got the weather report from mom last night. Geesh. But hmmm...maybe I need to think of a way to strand my hero and heroine in a blizzard!

Anna Campbell said...

Hi there, Billie Jo! Nice to see you in the lair! Yes, I really am going. Going...going...gone!!!

Helen, did Rod have his old pizazz?

He was considered quite the naughty sexy boy when I was in high school. I remember some radio stations banned Tonight's the Night. Seems so tame now compared to some of the stuff that's out there! Oh, dear, I really am starting to sound middle-aged ;-)

terrio said...

Congrats Helen. Speaking of summer chickens, that bird must prefer the heat to the crazy cold weather here.

Lovely blog and pictures, Suzanne. I actually grew up a few hours from Columbus but have never been there other than to drive through. How strange.

I get inspiration from all over. One day driving home from work I looked over to see a newly built (very large) building in which a company would be building boats or ships. Got the idea for a story about a guy who runs a charter fishing boat for tourists on Ocracoke Island. Got the heroine next and the twist and there I was.

Last night it was an email conversation. But quite often it's visiting this blog. You guys just make me want to get my butt in the chair and my fingers on the keyboard. Well, technically that has all taken place if I'm reading the blog and commenting, but you know what I mean. LOL!

Donna MacMeans said...

I think Inspiration/motivation change as we get older and our needs change. When I first got married, we had nothing between us. Money/survival was the primary motivator. It inspired us to both juggle work and school so we could get a degree and thus a better job.

When my kids were small, I used to paint soothing, nature based paintings. I think I needed the release that beauty in nature brings.

Sometimes I think there's some sort of karmic energy that is swirling about looking for a subject to transform it into a story or a painting. It chooses its medium and then throws inspirational nuggets in its path. The Trouble with Moonlight was inspired by a mediocre movie which had nothing to do with invisibility or the Victorian period. It was more a confluence of events. Yeah, Karma - I like that *g*

Aunty Cindy said...

How RIGHT you are, Suz! No SANE person is up before 8!!!

Ah but what a way to start the day, I pull up the blog and there is a GORGEOUS piccie of SB in a period costume! (Aunty wipes away drool) VERY INSPIRING!

Terrio, thanx a BUNCH for saying we inspire you to write!

And Helen and Billie Jo, it is readers like YOU who inspire us writers to keep writing!

Have a GREAT trip, Foanna!


Susan Seyfarth said...

Hi, Suz! Great topic today!

I'm with Kirsten--I get a lot of my ideas from non-fiction sources. My most recent WIP was inspired by that NFLer who got tossed off his team & into jail for running an illegal dog fighting ring. I thought to myself, "You know, if they (whoever 'they' are) are going to yank one more talented kid off the streets & into the NFL & give him gobs of money, the least they could do is provide some guidance on how to use it. They should issue nannies with every contract worth more than a million."

The story has since morphed into something completely different, but that was the germ that got into my brain & wouldn't let go. I call it my Mary Poppins for Millionaires story. We'll see how it goes, but you all know how much I love Mary Poppins. :-)

Helen said...

Yes Anna Rod still has that pizazz although he doesn't jump around as much as he did in the 70's when I used to go to his concerts but he has still got it, still kicks soccer balls to the audienence while singing Hot Legs and Do You Think I'm Sexy.
For a few years there I am sure he inspired me to dye my hair blonde but I am not tall and leggy so the blondes have more fun thing did't work for me.
I was so inspired to get the GR that I couldn't even spell Australia correctly LOL
Have Fun

Suzanne Welsh said...

Donna, often it is something small that gives us an idea, a conversation with a critique partner or a writing friend, a movie...I have four chapters of a medieval tale inspired because I didn't like how a scene was handled in a book I was reading. I read the whole book and loved it, but that one scene could have been handled differently and POOF a whole other story popped into my head!

Suzanne Welsh said...

^5's AC--a woman after my own heart!

By the way I was at the bookstore and saw the new cover to The Other Bolyn Girl with your man Eric Banna on the front. Mmmmmmmm I'm thinking HE could make Henry the Eight inspiring!

Billie Jo said...

Hey Suzy,

I am tired of digging out, LOL.

Ooohhhh does this mean that your h/h will heat up the pages (oh my poor virgin eyes).

Hope the family is doing well.

Hi Anna!

Billie Jo

Suzanne Welsh said...

Oh Susan, I love that idea...Nannies for Millionaires! I'd happily buy a few copies of each! And how about a male nanny for poor misguided hollywood women with no control?

Suzanne Welsh said...

Terrio...we're glad to be an inspiration for you. Often being on the blog is inpsiring, but then it's also a procrastination tool for me, so I have to limit the # of blogs I visit a day.

Suzanne Welsh said...

Billie Jo...ask Sandy. My h/h uh always heat up the sheets er pages!

Kay Thomas said...

Hey Suz

What inspires me? I hadn’t really thought about this specifically. Yes, hot actors in period costume do it every time! But I’d have to say that most of my inspiration “sneaks up on me.” An overheard snippet of conversation in a restaurant. Chatting with a friend about their vacation at a soccer game. Watching a news story on television. I’ll think about those stories or conversations later and wonder….”What if ____ had happened instead?”
An idea takes hold and I start.

Aunty Cindy said...

Oh YEAH, Suz!
Eric could DEFNITELY make Henry VIII inspiring, even if he is too tall, too lean and has the wrong coloring. :-P

The movie opens tomorrow, and you better believe I'll be there with my tub of hot buttered popcorn, getting inspired! AHEM!


Kate Carlisle said...

Suz said...My theory is no sane person is up before 8 AM...

Hey, I never said I was sane! ;-)
And sadly, the fact that I'm up at 5 AM every morning proves it.

The Eric Bana commercials are HOT. Dang, there's inspiration!! And he's in GQ Magazine this month, too, but they barely have any photos of him and the ones they have are tiny. It's so unfair.

Suzanne Welsh said...

Hey there, Kay! Glad you stopped by. Did I tell you that sometimes stuff happens at work to catch my attention? The other day I had a patient whose husband was an FBI agent? Yep, honest to goodness! He also told me he was glad I knew because he had to let the staff know he was armed! Yep, saw the bulge on the side of his waist under the sweatshirt!

Hmmm...pretty sure that could be worked into a story.

Suzanne Welsh said...

Oh wow, tomorrow, AC? Hmmmm, I'm off...wonder if I can fit a movie into my agenda...Eric Banna and a tub of hot buttered popcorn. Yep that's inspiring!

Cassondra said...

Great blog Suz.

And GREAT inspiring pic. I never realized he was such a hottie. Where have I been, under a rock? Sheesh.

A great scene in a film can inspire a whole story for me--those two characters will often play the lead in a whole other drama based on the chemistry I sense between them in particularly gripping scenes.

Nobody has said this yet I think, but I often dream plots, or bits of them....and the story takes off from there.

Spending time in the company of creative people gives me ideas--it's like they fly around the room when you're in that kind of great company, and you have to develop your "ears" so you can hear the ideas and sort of reach out and grab them as they go by.

When I need an idea and don't have one I've learned to do certain things that trigger the left-brain-right-brain switcheroo that works out problems in stories or comes up with new starts. Some of these things are taking a bubble bath, driving, showering, mowing the lawn, doing dishes--stuff that engages the body but that you don't have to actually think about to get done.

Inspiration itself--well--I bow three times toward the basement door and sacrifice a bottle of wine now and then and hope the girls in the basement keep talking. Voodoo. That's what it is.

Suzanne Welsh said...

Cassondra, it's an old picture of SB....but he'll always be Richard Sharpe to me just like this. (I of course like the older version, too!)

As for mundane tasks that allow your brain to flow...I'm afraid I'm an ironer. In my case it's genetic, but it really works for freeing up ideas.

Joan said...

What inspires me? You mean besides the other awesome Banditas?

Doing it. (NO! Not THAT it)but building the story, molding it and shaping it into something worth reading. That (pumps fist in air) feeling when it's done. The whole creative process. THAT inspires me to keep on.

And I second the Eric Bana commercials though if they make him up as the "corpulent" Henry VIII I may weep!

Christine Wells said...

Ack, not again! Helen, congrats on nabbing the rooster! I think he's definitely enjoying our Oz summer.

Suz, what a great post. I'm endlessly fascinated by what inspires writers. Definitely agree about Sharpe!

When I'm asked about inspiration, it's very difficult to retrace the steps in my thought process. I'm often inspired (in a way) by my research and real life stories but when I'm writing the story develops independently of anything concrete like that. Unusually for me, in my current WIP, Indecent Proposal, I used the premise of buying someone's wife for a night (from the movie of the same name) as the jumping off point, but even that aspect changed radically with the writing of it.

Now I'm going to go and read what everyone has said. This is great fun!*g*