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I woke up yesterday morning from a series of vivid dreams. In the first one, I recall that the very talented actor and director Kenneth Branagh was trying to kill actress Allison Janney and was dragging her up a fire escape outside a brick apartment building. Suddenly, Reese Witherspoon popped out of a window as they passed. She somehow managed to snatch Janney and pull her through the window and into her apartment. Branagh then grabbed Witherspoon by the hair and attempted to continue up the fire escape, but Reese hit him with her aluminum crutch (?!) He fell down the metal stairs all the way to the sidewalk and landed on his head.

This weirdness woke me up. Why would I dream about such an odd trio? Why would my subconscious turn Kenneth Branagh (whom I adore) into a psychopath? (KR thinks I’ve been watching too many award shows. Pfft. How many are too many?)

I confess that one of my first thoughts was, as a writer “can I use any of this?” I ran through the dream once more so that I would remember it, then lay there wondering what the hell that was about until I fell back to sleep. The last dream I had before the alarm went off had to do with walking a little fluffy dog (definitely not Morty) on a leash while riding a skateboard (yes me). I know I was in Florida staying with my mother, but it wasn’t her house, it was some old building. The dog got away from me and ran into the apartment of a gay couple about to have a party. I followed the dog, and as other guests began to arrive, they invited me to stay. I wasn’t dressed for a party and so scooped up the dog to go change clothes, with every intention of going back. I can only guess that I would have conjured a great party, but as I said, the alarm went off.

Anyway, the dreams lingered in my mind yesterday, and I wondered if these random tableaux could be good for something. In other words, could I draw inspiration from them?

More than likely, no. As CC pointed out to me, “Writers who keep pads of paper/pens or voice recorders on their bedside tables are getting material for dream interpretation at best, fodder for discussion with their therapists at worst.” And I have to agree. Dreams such as the ones described above can usually be attributed to “an undigested bit of beef, a blot of mustard, a crumb of cheese, a fragment of an underdone potato”* and not the seeds of a great novel.

Of course, there is an exception to every rule.

“Like the ideas for some of my other novels, that came to me in a dream…I fell asleep on the plane, and dreamt about a woman who held a writer prisoner and killed him, skinned him, fed the remains to her pig and bound his novel in human skin. His skin, the writer’s skin. I said to myself, ‘I have to write this story.’ Of course, the plot changed quite a bit in the telling. But I wrote the first forty or fifty pages right on the landing here, between the ground floor and the first floor of the hotel.”– Stephen King

These latest dreams of mine have no place in any current works-in-progress, but perhaps I should save them for something down the line. If I think long enough about these scenarios, the people or characters in them will speak. That’s usually where I start – dialogue. Bits of conversations, either with people I know or people I see on the street or characters I’ve created, run through my head all day, every day. I have little notebooks tucked into every purse, along with many different scratchpads and pieces of paper all over my apartment and in my desk at work, containing snippets of dialogue for future use.

But, this dream stuff got me thinking about other writers and where they get their inspiration.

“You get ideas from daydreaming. You get ideas from being bored. You get ideas all the time. The only difference between writers and other people is we notice when we’re doing it.” — Neil Gaiman

There’s, of course, the pure observation of the people and places in one’s life. For example, Mark Twain’s “Huckleberry Finn” was based on someone he knew, a childhood friend.

“In Huckleberry Finn, I have drawn Tom Blankenship exactly as he was. He was ignorant, unwashed, insufficiently fed; but he had as good a heart as ever any boy had. His liberties were totally unrestricted. He was the only really independent person—boy or man—in the community, and by consequence, he was tranquilly and continuously happy and envied by the rest of us.” — Mark Twain

I find inspiration in connecting the dots. My mind works the same way as Melanie Griffith’s character, Tess McGill, in the film Working Girl. She reads an item on the society page of the newspaper in which mogul Oren Trask’s daughter announced her engagement. She recognized the name because she already knew that Trask Industries was looking for a new foothold in multi-media. In the business section, she reads about a group of radio stations that are up for sale. (“Trask – Radio. Trask – Radio”.)

A better example comes from Suzanne Collins, the author of “The Hunger Games” trilogy:

“One night, I was lying in bed, and I was very tired, and I was just sort of channel surfing on television. And, I was going through, flipping through images of reality television where there were these young people competing for a million dollars or a bachelor or whatever. And then I was flipping, and I was seeing footage from the Iraq War. And these two things began to sort of fuse together in a very unsettling way, and that is when I, really, I think was the moment where I really got the idea for Katniss’s story.” — Suzanne Collins

king inspiration

If none of that works, editor and award-winning writer John Matthew Fox posted a list on his blog, BOOKFOX, of “tried and true techniques” used by successful authors. Some are slap-you-upside-your-head-obvious, and some are downright scary. And while there are no guarantees that any of the suggestions will work for me or anyone else for that matter, it won’t hurt to keep the list handy, in any case.

There are as many answers to the question “where did that come from?” as there are writers seeking inspiration.  The bottom line is that inspiration can come from anywhere so long as we’re open to it.


What inspires you? Whether you’re a writer or not,  do you have a “go to” method or even a place that seems to get the juices flowing, creative or otherwise? We’d love to read all about it in the comments.


*”A Christmas Carol” – Charles Dickens