Where Does Your Inspiration Come From?

This week we turn the keys over to Allan Woodrow, prolific children’s author and a panelist at CWC 2014. Allan will speak about “Writing for the Younger Crowd” on Sunday, October 26.

Allan Woodrow

“Where does your inspiration come from?”

People often ask me that. They also often ask if they can have a dollar. Interestingly, people who want a buck don’t care about where I get my inspiration. But people who ask about inspiration are happy to take a dollar.

At least those inspiration-asking people who got a dollar get something. Because really, I have little idea how the salt shaker of inspiration peppers down (does salt “pepper” down? Does that work?). I sit and write stuff that comes to me when I’m showering, eating, or, mostly, when I’m at the computer. And some of it stinks and some of it is interesting. I know that, for me, I’ll generally think of more ideas in the morning. That was a breakthrough, because I used to write in the evenings. But, frankly, the hard part isn’t thinking of an idea, because I bet if you can sit down at your computer or at your pad of paper right now, you can think of something. But the hard part, at least for me, is knowing what ideas are good and which ideas aren’t.

I spend a lot of time – most of my writing time, actually – playing with ideas that don’t go anywhere. I’ll spend days, weeks or months on something before deciding I’ve wasted my time. And really the main difference, if I’m honest, between the ideas I’ve finished and the ideas I haven’t is how desperate I am to finish them. Because after a few months of starting and stopping, starting and stopping with nothing to show for it, at some point I have to say either, “Forget it, let’s move on,” or “Screw it, I’m just going to get this done.” And then I hope, hope, hope that when it’s done it was worth doing.

I did the stopping/starting thing for years and years. But when I finally decided to “Screw it, I’m just going to get this done,” is when I became an author and not just a writer.

Because most of my ideas, honestly, aren’t very good. But people don’t ask me, “Where do you get your inspiration for bad ideas?” No one cares about the novels on my computer no one will likely see or no publisher wants to buy. They want to know, “Where do you get your inspiration for the ideas that publishers want to publish?” And the short answer is, “From the same place I get the ideas about the stuff that no one will ever publish.”

Which means the only thing I can tell anyone about inspiration is this: “Write every day and finish stuff. And hopefully the thing you finish will be so good that people will ask you where you got the inspiration for writing it.”

My favorite book I’ve written has been rejected by everyone accept my agent, and I suspect she only pretended to shop it around since. Otherwise, why would no one buy it? It’s brilliant! I spent almost two years writing it (Although, you know, I ate and slept and took showers in between. When an author says they spent “X years” writing a book they usually don’t mean non-stop). So was my inspiration for that idea somehow worse than the inspiration for my other things? Do I have multiple muses and some are just horrible at their job and others are better at it? If so, you’d think they would have the courtesy to show their credentials at the door.

In the end, I suppose, inspiration comes from living, watching, listening, and thinking, “What if?” and then writing it down. And hopefully, what you’ve written will strike a cord in an editor, a reader, a critic, or your spouse. Because, for me, inspiration hits a million times a day. But in the end, the real test, is seeing which of those things are so compelling that they will inspire someone else.

The Contagious Colors of Mumpley Middle School

The Contagious Colors of Mumpley Middle School

Allan Woodrow is the author of more than three thousand books, but only a few have been published including The Pet War, The Rotten Adventures of Zachary Ruthless and, coming Fall, 2015, The Incredible Teacher Secret, although there is a chance that title will change since he and his editor are still discussing it. He also writes under the secret name of Fowler DeWitt, although Allan is bad at keeping secrets. Fowler DeWitt is the author of The Contagious Colors of Mumpley Middle School and its sequel, The Amazing Wilmer Dooley.