This is a question I’ve been asked several times over the last few years, since I made the decision to pursue writing seriously, and I still don’t know exactly how to answer it. More often than not, the ideas find me. When inspiration strikes, I’m usually in the middle of doing something benign and totally unrelated to writing—driving, hiking, showering, standing in line at the grocery store—and the best I can do is write a quick note before I forget. Sometimes it’s just a story title, or a handful of words. Sometimes it’s a character or creature, and nothing else. The trick, I’ve found, is to record the idea in as few words as possible to trigger the same line of thinking when I come back to it later. For some reason, my creativity seems to bleed out if I try too hard to nail all the details down. A story idea might roll around in my skull for days, weeks or months before I actually attempt to write it out fully. But when it’s an idea I’m truly passionate about, it refuses to leave me alone. Once it gets its hooks in, I couldn’t forget it if I tried.
So, where do I find inspiration when I’m looking for it? Perusing open calls for magazines and anthologies is a great way to get the creative juices flowing. If I’m lucky, reading through the desired theme will spark an idea I can work with. I keep a list of the calls that interest me, and I’ll run through my notes to see if anything fits. I also collect articles on various subjects, from science to popular culture, that I think might be useful later on. For example, I’ve been holding onto a piece about a disappearing lake that’s just waiting for the right characters to come along. But the very best source for inspiration comes from reading. I read more now than I ever have, and I’m constantly discovering new authors and styles. It challenges me to expand my thinking into new areas, to explore genres that I have less experience with. I especially enjoy short story collections that blend elements of horror with science fiction or dark fantasy. I’ll read something and ask myself how I might approach the subject differently. And all the while, I’m growing as an artist, expanding my knowledge as I continue to develop my personal style. It drives me to try new things, experiment. While those ideas don’t always pan out, I consider a story successful regardless, as long as I’ve learned something.
My favorite drive takes me up along the coastline, and as the cities give way to towering trees that hem in the highway, with breathtaking views of the Pacific to the west, I turn up the music and let my mind drift. There’s a special kind of magic in that drive. It has filled more plot holes, untied more knots, and solved more puzzles than I could ever hope to accomplish alone. If I have a muse, she’s riding shotgun.