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8 Sources of Inspiration for Writers

Updated on June 22, 2021
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Rosa Marchisella is the author of the gripping "Touch of Insanity" series and the bone-chilling novella "The Greatest of Books."


Whether you’re writing fiction, non-fiction, children’s stories, screenplays, short stories, poems or even informational articles, it’s sometimes hard to come up with a topic or story idea. Some writers are blessed enough to have great ideas pop into their heads out of the blue or in connection to something they’ve seen or heard. Others find story-building more perspiration and less inspiration.

For those who find themselves stranded without a muse, here are a few tactics that can help get the creative juices flowing.


Dreams can be a great source of inspiration for stories. They’re filled with raw human emotion that can make you laugh, cry, cower and blush. One can use a nightmare as the basis for an entire horror story or frightening incident inside of a bigger tale. The quirky characters and strange environments encountered in dreams can add depth and fascinating detail to a novel.

Keeping a dream journal is a good way to keep a record of ideas for future reference. For those who cannot readily recall their dreams, keeping a dream journal will help. Over time, this practice will allow for more and more details to be remembered. Record images, feelings, statements and characters; anything and everything that can be recalled. Sometimes a single image or phrase from a dream can inspire one to write a powerful scene from which a whole story can flow.

A dream journal can be kept in a variety of forms; in a notebook, as daily files on the computer, as a series of sketches. By making a habit of recording dreams, one can open the door to creativity.

Timeless stories never go out of fashion because they resonate with their audience.

Fairy Tales & Classics

Some of the best loved modern novels and movies have their roots firmly planted in fairy tales and classic stories. They can be

  • creative recreations like Anne Rice’s The Mummy; Ramses the Damned,
  • tales with a dark twist like Tanith Lee’s Red as Blood, or
  • fun impersonations such as 10 Things I Hate About You, starring Heath Ledger and Julia Stiles.

Alice In Wonderland illustration by Mabel Lucie Attwell
Alice In Wonderland illustration by Mabel Lucie Attwell

Charlotte Brönte and Jane Austen stories remade in film or released in print continue to draw fresh audiences. These timeless stories never go out of fashion because they resonate with their audience. People can identify with the characters and situations. At the heart of women worldwide, there is a resilient Snow White struggling with a wicked queen trying to keep her down or a faithful Jane Eyre longing for her secret love. In the subconscious of men, the clever Sherlock Holmes is analysing and deducing or Cyrano fumbling for the right words to woo his beloved.

By finding the relatable elements in fairy tales or classic stories, a writer can fashion his or her own narrative that resonates with audiences everywhere.

The “What If” Game

We play the notorious “What If” Game every day.

  • What if my boyfriend meets a prettier girl at his conference?
  • What if the boss doesn't like my proposal?
  • What if I met Mr. or Ms. Right on the day I got lost in a foreign country?
  • What if gas prices continue to get higher?
  • What if I won on a game show?

What if ...? What if ...? A person could spend their whole life helplessly trapped in the “What If” Game.

A clever writer could make good use of all those What If’s by turning them into stories or articles. An article that explores an employees options when the boss doesn’t like their proposal would find an eager audience. A romance writer could make good use of the boyfriend finding a prettier gal at the conference. Whether he stays faithful or strays, both What If scenarios would make for a gripping tale.

By making a list of What If’s to contemplate, good or bad, one can compile a list of potential ideas for stories, articles or opinion pieces.

A clever writer could make good use of What If’s by turning them into stories or articles.

Popular Press

The media world has every type of information a writer could ever want; finances, science, psychology, sports … Magazine articles and new releases about discoveries new or old can provide infinite inspiration.

An article about the rings of Saturn can lead to a science-fiction story about a space family on vacation. An explanation of subliminal messages can spark a delicious drama. The more one knows, the more they have to draw on for inspiration.

Courtesy of NASA
Courtesy of NASA

Picture It

A picture is worth a thousand words, so finding a picture you can write about is a good starting point. Art books and sites, coffee table and photo books, photography magazines, photo albums and stock websites can all provide mental stimulation.

Find photos or artwork that inspire and make up stories or poems to accompany them. Take it one step further and create a story that connects multiple pictures.

The Power of a Song

Music has the power to move us. It can evoke emotions and shape images in the mind’s eye. By sitting back with eyes closed and listening to music (preferably without lyrics), a writer can find inspiration for imaginative stories.

Stranger Than Fiction

Actual events sometimes provide the best amusement, as demonstrated by the popularity of reality television shows and true-crime novels. Fictionalize or memorialize events from the past or present.

The day one was late for school because of a frightening neighbourhood dog or perhaps the Christmas that Great-grandma used Ajax instead of baking soda in her pies may be old news to the author, but if told properly these events can be endlessly entertaining for others.


OPL (Other People’s Lives)

Parks, food courts, bus terminals and waiting rooms hold tragedies, comedy, romance and oodles of drama. Sit in a place where other people congregate and just listen. If we sit quietly among others, their stories will unfold.

One of these true life events can spark the imagination. By weaving key elements with fiction or supporting it with a bit of research, a writer can have the start of a novel, screenplay, poem or article.

Have Fun!

You might want to pick a random photo from social media and write a short story about it or write a modernized version of your favourite fairy tale. Perhaps that weird dream you had the other night would make a great practice scene to get your creative juices going. There's no wrong answer.

Experiment, practice, and keep your eyes open because inspiration is all around you!

© 2011 Rosa Marchisella


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