Saturday, October 29, 2011


Inspiration is one of those funny things. You never know where or how it will strike. Many writers feel that waiting for it is pointless and anyone wanting to be a writer needs to go out and find their ideas without it. Well, here are some thoughts on finding it.

I write crime and mystery (mainly). Nearly everything I write will have a fleshed out crime at its heart. My “day job” (ironic, as I work the graveyard shift) is customer service related, and has been for 20+ years. I see a lot of people. Because I’m also a suspicious person by nature, I watch the people I meet and notice patterns in the things they do, then try to relate those patterns to the actions they take later on.

There are five things that a person can do when they come into the hotel that mark them as a potential problem. Anyone might do one or two, but anyone doing four or five basically guarantees a problem room.

Back at the grocery store, employees were required to greet anyone getting within 4 to 5 feet of us. If a customer we didn’t know greeted us in a friendly manner before they entered that range there was a good chance they were stealing stuff. I know of two people for sure that were. The one I caught would have gotten past me if he just ignored me. His greeting made me look very closely at the stuff in his cart as we passed.

How does this relate to writing and inspiration? Because I habitually watch the way people do things, I see a lot of the same behaviors time and time again. I think that’s an important thing for any writer to do. You have to see how most people do things to describe it clearly. I also see things that strike me as odd. Those odd things get me thinking, and that thinking can often lead to a story idea.

For example, today at the bank the guy in front of me was quite tall. I left right behind him and noticed that he didn’t push the door open in a normal way. Instead, he reached up well over his head and pushed the door open with the tips of all four fingers. The odds of anyone else ever touching that spot would be remote. Most people couldn’t even reach that high.

So, why did he do it? Was he afraid of touching the handle where everyone else did? Was he a germaphobe? Maybe. Or maybe he wanted to be sure that his fingerprints would be in the bank, undisturbed, for some other reason.

They were up high enough that if the bank were robbed, it’s unlikely that the police would dust that part of the door. Maybe it was like his calling card. When he comes back to rob the place a week from now, it will be a bigger rush knowing that his prints are right there on the door.

Maybe it was a signal to the teller, or someone else in the bank that something would be happening at four. He had an odd cash request too, but I didn’t pay attention to it. Maybe it was a code.

Maybe he was just strange. Whatever the real reason, the way he opened the door got me thinking. From that one simple act, I ran though about eight different plot ideas, some different enough from each other that I could easily do two or three without the common thread showing.

Inspiration doesn't hide. It’s all around. You might not see if for what it is, but if you just pay attention to the world around you, it’s there. Sometimes it’s obvious, and sometimes it’s not.

Sometimes, it even holds the door open for you at the bank.

1 comment:

  1. I love these lines of thinking. The ideas we come up with also show how much we filter the world through our own unique experience and outlook. When you described the man as "quite tall" and how he reached up, my own instinctive explanation was that maybe he had had a few headache-forming experiences with low doorways, and he habitually reached up to check whether or not he needed to duck. My parent's house was very old and had one or two low points, and once I'd learned my lesson I always used touch rather than sight to judge the gap.