Image by Luca Baggio
Hello, writer friends, let’s discuss our insecurities! 😃
No, no, don’t leave. I’m actually going to talk about inspiration. And imposter syndrome. And a smidge of astrophysics. Stick with me.
Let’s get imposter syndrome out of the way first. It’s that awful feeling that you aren’t good enough and you don’t belong, even when you’re capable and deserving. There are about a zillion TED talks about imposter syndrome, so I’m not going to belabour the topic; I’m only mentioning it to help frame my own insecurity about writerly inspiration.
My issue isn’t that I don’t have story ideas. I have plenty. It’s that none of my ideas has been a lodestar guiding my efforts as a writer.
This makes me feel like a limp dilettante when I meet writers of conviction, who know what they want to write and are dedicated to their master work. I’m in awe of their drive and purpose. Compared to them, I feel like I’m still a little kid telling stories to my bathtub toys.
There’s the first trap—comparing myself to others. Instead, let’s look at the big picture.
Yes, it’s impressive and inspiring that some writers have a singularly deep well of inspiration. And sure, it’s okay that I don’t. Basically I’ve got a bunch of puddles, and I don’t know how deep and rich they are until I start splashing around. That’s why I feel anxious when committing to a big piece… no matter what it turns out to be, I know it started as a plain ol’ puddle.
Most creative people will tell you that ideas can come from anywhere, and often from unexpected places—scraps of conversation, odd encounters, peculiar technology. This is true for me as well. (I once wrote a long, quite terrible story about a necktie I saw abandoned in the street.) But, more commonly, my stories come from nearly nowhere.
More precisely: for me, ideas grow out of the act of writing itself. Maybe I start from a simple prompt, or from one of my daily free-writing scrawls. It’s nothing special—just another puddle to play in. Sometimes (usually), the puddle isn’t much more than a damp patch. But sometimes (rarely), as I write, I find life and depths I never expected. And—voilà. There’s a story for me to explore.
The truth is, I struggle to take myself seriously as a writer when my work is based on such flimsy beginnings.
What I need to tell myself is that these insubstantial origins don’t matter. So what if I wrote an entire story based on a randomly generated word? So what if I don’t have a deep personal message to convey? So what if my story hasn’t been the centre of my whole adult life? What matters, for my writing practice, is that once I find a story, I help it grow into its full potential.
Here’s the thing: my title for this post it a little misleading. Inspiration doesn’t come from nowhere, even if it feels that way sometimes. Ideas arise from (where else?) our brains, those spectacular neural networks whose complexity is comparable to the cosmos. And what’s in our brains to draw from…?
…our entire lived experience.
…every sensation, thought, question, and dream we’ve ever had.
…every historical increment that has built our physical and sociological reality.
…everything we think we’ve forgotten, or weren’t consciously aware of in the first place.
…and every person we’ve shared our lives with—all of whom have cranial galaxies of their own.
Image by Guillermo Ferla
So. Inspiration. From nearly nowhere, amirite?
I guess I’m okay with that. 💚