When I sit around and try to think about stories, I tend to draw from whatever is closest in my head. That could be the last movie I watched. It could be the last book that I read. It could be literally anything, but it’s already in my head. For the longest time books, movies, and TV shows were my main sources of inspiration. That isn’t even necessarily a bad thing. There’s a lot of good information there. There’s a lot of really good stories there that you can take and transform as you like. What wound up becoming a problem was the fact that it was the only source.
I refused, adamantly, for years to pull from the people around me. I still refuse to write my friends and family into stories. There are no characters that represent them. There are no hidden grudges on the page. All my people are separate from my characters. And doing this isn’t necessarily bad either. There are tons of writers out there that put their personal feelings onto the page. J. K. Rowling’s character Umbridge was a jab at someone that she didn’t like. There are nonfiction authors that waited until the people in their stories were dead before publishing stories that put them in a negative light.
People use stories to deal with emotions. Even I do that, but what I have refused to do is to consciously put people in there that I know. It’s just the way I’ve decided to live my life. There are nonfiction stories that I have written and would love to share with the world that I know will stay locked away in drawers and in online folders until a few people aren’t around to criticize me for the work.
But what I have started doing is looking for inspiration everywhere. I look for it in the way that people throw parties that I go to and in the way that their bedrooms are set up. I see it in the way that people treat me, the way that their eyes turn this way or that. The way that they might not even look at me. I try to find the way that people are people and draw it out into words. It takes a lot of practice, a lot of confusing and weird practice, but you get there.
One of the best habits that was ever given to me by an English class was something called a 4 Minute Diary. My class did this on and off during the course of our quarter because it was a class about habits and how it plays into our writing. Lynda Barry’s video became a constant in my life for those couple months.
And then I stopped doing it. I graduated; I had other things to do. For whatever reason, the journal got left by the wayside. Where I am right now, I don’t even have the journal that I was using for the 4 Minute Diaries anymore. But I’m fixing that problem so that I can get better about looking at my world. And really that’s how you draw inspiration from the world around you: you look at the world around you with a more critical eye.