The Nature of Inspiration

Inspiration is one of those abstract concepts that baffles me, especially since I spend most of my time waiting for it to happen (A bit like when I was 16 and waiting for The Sex to spontaneously occur despite braces and a terribly unfashionable haircut). But inspiration does hit on occasion and I think that ‘hit’ might be the perfect verb. When I get it, it’s like a slap on the forehead or a kick to the shin, and there’s a pseudo-guilt that goes along with it; that horrible “why didnt I think of it before?! Gah!”. There are excercises, tips and tricks handed around by every writer who ever lived, from freewrites and brainstorming to word association and websites with randomised stimuli. But how does it work?


Of all the theories I’ve heard on the nature of our most ellusive and hard-sought commodity, I think Terry Pratchett has the randomness down the best. Here’s an excerpt from Sourcery:

Little particles of inspiration sleet through the universe all the time travelling through the densest matter in the same way that a neutrino passes through a candyfloss haystack, and most of them miss. Even worse, most of the ones that hit the exact cerebral target hit the wrong one. For example, the weird dream about a lead doughnut on a mile-high gantry, which in the right mind would have been the catalyst for the invention of repressed-gravitational electricity generation (a cheap and inexhaustible and totally non-polluting form of power which the world in question had been seeking for centuries, and for the lack of which it was plunged into a terrible and pointless war) was in fact had by a small and bewildered duck.

By another stroke of bad luck, the sight of a herd of white horses galloping through a field of wild hyacinths would have led a struggling composer to write the famous Flying God Suite, bringing succour and balm to the souls of millions, had he not been at home in bed with shingles. The inspiration therefore fell to a nearby frog, who was not in much of a position to make a startling contribution to the field of tone poetry.

Many civilisations have recognised this shocking waste and tried various methods to prevent it, most of them involving enjoyable but illegal attempts to tune the mind into the right wavelength by the use of exotic herbage or yeast products. It never works properly.

Good old Terry. What a bloody genius he is.

Someone said that all the best ideas are taken. I have to disagree. I think the problem is that modern writers like us simply have a lot of source material to call on. It’s easy to be inspired by Mary Shelley or Bram Stoker, and even more by modern writers such as Stephanie Meyer or Charlaine Harris. But the problem is you can only be inspired in so many ways by the same material.


And so for modern writers having a problem with inspiration, I think we need to get back to basics. On a recent camping trip, I was waiting for some ‘wandered lonely as a cloud’ style ideas when I realised that it wasn’t the fields or the incessant lowing of cattle that would create an inspired thought. It was the freedom. Freedom from the Office, the keyboard, and the soul-sucking glow of the laptop screen. Sitting on the floor of my tent, watching the drizzle, my mind was able to wander. A mind is so much more open when there are fewer distractions. So my advice is this: Put down your favourite book, turn off the computer, and get your boots on. Slip your favourite notebook in your pocket and pick a direction to walk in, be it to the roof of your apartment block or a forest. If you get away from the crowds, there’s more chance of an Inspiration Particle singling you out.

Happy Writing and thanks for reading.


About Craig Hallam

Author of Speculative Fiction. Not Before Bed, The Adventures of Alan Shaw and Greaveburn are out now. Embrace the Weird!
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5 Responses to The Nature of Inspiration

  1. Great advice! It’s so easy to get sucked into the busy, overcrowded world of seemingly endless knowledge, more commonly known as the Internet. It’s kind of like cheating on a test…sure you get the answers, but you lose out on all the stuff that makes those answers stick. We think we can find anything on the internet, and we’re pretty much right; however, we start to lose the ability to think on our own and use our natural resources to create worlds far more colorful and intriguing.

  2. A great point. There is inspiration everywhere we look. I think the big problem is that we are too distracted to look around and see it. There are so many distractions in our worlds: work, traffic, timelines, schedules, projects, school, deadline, etc etc etc. And while I think all those things are important, they tend to be in the forefront of our minds and thoughts. It is offly hard to be able to see past them to see the good things in life. And thus the inspirational things.

    You should write a book on writing philosophy. More people need to hear things like this. It would make all us writers much happier people writing much better work.

    • Craig Hallam says:

      Conrad – Consider it my next project 🙂 My basic theory is “get out of the house”. It’s so easy to get cabin fever. Fresh air, just for an hour, seems to lubricate the writing gears perfectly. Thanks, as always, for dropping in, Conrad.

  3. Pingback: Blog Fodder… the stuff of posts « A Side Of Writing

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