Tag Archives: inspiration

How Toni Morrison’s works Inspired me to Write

Her rich narratives inspired me to write with depth and without constraint.

When I recently saw Toni Morrison trending on google my stomach flipped. How likely was it that she was trending because she had broken the internet with a controversial picture or been involved in some tasteless topical scandal or a public spat with a peer? Highly unlikely. Toni Morrison was a Nobel prize winning writer who stood on the platform of her integrity to inspire others and scatter her gems of wisdom among us literary types. So when I saw her trending, I thought the worse and sadly I was right. Her recent passing has really saddened me, not only because she was arguably one of the greatest writers whoever lived, but because stumbling on her work as a child is what inspired me to write. It might sound odd but for the longest time I always considered it a privilege that my favourite author was still living and breathing while I was.

An Early Introduction

My introduction to her work came through a copy of the novel Paradise which I found laying around one of the spare rooms in my grandmother’s house. At my young age, a lot of the sentence structures and dense metaphors were beyond me. I was unfamiliar with words which read like art. My first encounter with how she wove her words together so abstractly intrigued me and I hoped to one day access her stories.

I was second time lucky when the motion picture of Beloved was released. A part slave narrative about a woman named Sethe who (now freed) is haunted by the child she sacrificed in her infancy. Sethe lives with her surviving daughter Denver When a mystery woman named Beloved appears out of nowhere and wreaks havoc on their household. Oprah Winfrey bought the rights to the novel and  starred alongside Danny Glover and Thandie Newton in the 1998 motion picture. I was captivated by it and it soon became one of my favourite films. Of course, the novel was even better.

A Life’s Worth of Writing

Toni Morrison did with words, what I hadn’t thought possible. She wove intricate portraits that humanised the suffering of a historically oppressed people. She brought the narratives alive that compelled people of all backgrounds to sit, up, take notice and empathise. Moreover, she inspired me to gather my experiences and spill them onto blank pages through one of her most memorable quotes:

“If there is a book that you want to read, but it hasn’t been written yet, then you must write it.”

I absolutely adore this quote. It’s nurturing and yet earnest about the need for us writers (arguably the biggest procrastinators) to be proactive in creating the art that we want to consume instead of waiting for what may never appear. She did exactly this with her own work and thank God she did! I can’t imagine a world without her stories in it. Morrison juxtaposed the traumas of slavery with the infinite possibilities of newfound freedom in Beloved, she liberated her characters without minimising their suffering.

In The Bluest Eye, which I discussed in this previous post, she holds up many mirrors which enable us to see how little black girls view themselves both internally and externally, how their beauty and worth is viewed both within and beyond their own communities and the external factors which help to either shape their strong sense of self-worth (Claudia McTeer) or lack thereof (Pecola Breedlove).

Her works serve as historical artefacts; fictional ethnographies that speak to the very real socio-historical experiences of black women and yet can engage everyone. Her stories are many things at once: harrowing, brutal, awakening, educational, honest, beautiful. I’m just grateful that she inspired me to pick up something that I love- painting pictures with words. And for that I am truly grateful.

Have you ever read anything by Toni Morrison? If not, which writer’s work has inspired you the most? Let me know in the comments below!

Finding Writing Inspiration in your Everyday Emotions

Writers! Can you think back to a time when someone really disappointed you or elicited a strong emotion? Weave that into your work.

As a writer you have the advantage of finding inspiration in your everyday emotions. These emotions can be the pot of gold at the end of a rainbow or the lemonade in the evening, after a day of sucking on bitter lemons. Only If you know how to manipulate them. Nobody likes to feel like garbage but let’s be real, life is full of challenges and pivots and we will be tested. Find comfort in this one true fact: those negative emotions can act as the pieces of meat that tie the soup of your story line together.

Here are two ways in which you can turn negative emotions into inspiration for your fiction writing:

It can fuel a plotline

Remember that rude shop assistant you encountered the other day? The one who glared at you when you asked where the hummus was? They have the potential to be a fine resource of inspiration. I can see you shaking your head but seriously, hear me out. What about that commuter who knocked into you on Tuesday morning? If none of these scenarios ring a bell, think back to a time when someone really disappointed you or elicited a strong emotion? Gather your thoughts and squeeze that lemonade because you’re about to add a spoonful of authenticity to your work in progress.

Consider the following:

How did the scenario make you feel?

What is the physical description of the person in question?

Step outside of the scenario and consider or imagine (if you don’t know them) what type of person they normally are. Could they have been really stressed out or do you think this behaviour is a part of their normal personality?

What was the setting like? Was it crowded and claustrophobic or spacious? What was the lighting like?

Writing it all down and adding to your inventory

Now that you have a bank of inspiration from your experience/s sentences, begin to jot down notes and words.

Do you have a character in mind that you can project a similar emotion onto in order to push your storyline forward?

Did they feel the emotion from somebody else or did they elicit it?

What was their subsequent reaction?

If you’re unsure, begin to plot down possibilities. You don’t need to have a clear outcome from these exercises. They are merely designed to provide a source of information which you can draw from at any time.

Forcing your character into action

Now take yourself out of the scenario and transfer it to a prospective character. You can have a character in mind or create one. Remember, this doesn’t have to be a main character at all.

Think about what triggers their emotions? Is it the same factors which trigger yours? If not how are they different?

Think about where your character can go with this. Brainstorm the possibilities for embedding this into scenes or storylines. It could be a minor part of one scene or could be a major conflict which creates the story arch. It is all dependent on what you gain from this exercise of digging from past conflicts.

Turning reality into fiction

It takes a box of odds and ends to embellish a work in progress. Taking the good with the bad ensures that you’re collecting resources to draw from at all times. So how will you react to an unsavoury situation next time? Jot it down and think about how you can transfer it to your work in some small way. You can even file it away for future use if it doesn’t fit into your existing work in progress. Is there a situation that you can think of which could inspire your current work? Tell me in the comments below!

I Rarely Look for Inspiration in the Middle of a Fiction Project. Here’s Why…

As a writer, inspiration is something that I don’t often look for. I know it sounds strange as us writerly people are known for digging and delving through the crevices of life to find hidden gems that serve as inspiration. I, on the other hand allow inspiration to come to me in spontaneous form. I let my ideas flow at whatever ungodly time that they pop up and then capture them. Remember the BFG? Rahl Dahl’s giant who was also a dream catcher? He used a net to catch good and bad dreams to put into bottles and store in his cupboard. As an author I take a similar approach because forcing myself to conjure up ideas just highlights the fact that writer’s block is around the corner. Instead when my ideas and inspirations pop up, I take note and capture them.

Never Let an Idea Go!

It’s really important to never let an idea go as a writer. Many of us can attest to scribbling on receipts in the supermarket when our phone battery has died. Better yet, miraculously holding that idea in your head before you reach home looking vacant, mumbling to yourself and dodging conversations with others in the process so as not to drop your genius idea. I have been known to spend the wee hours of the morning writing illegible notes on my phone’s notepad when I should be sleeping. Worse still, when the notepad ran out of space, I made notes in the form of text message and sent them so that they would be saved – maybe that’s just my dramatic #writerslife, however you get my drift. Writers do crazy s**t to hold or retain ideas in our heads when pens aren’t near!

That spontaneous eureka moment of inspiration

One of the upsides to not looking for inspiration is the feeling you get when it appears. That magical eureka moment releases some serious endorphins and that feeling never gets old. A few recent instances stand out in my mind. Take for instance a period of writer’s block that came about a few months ago. It was regarding the main character of my upcoming novel and a male love interest. I wanted them to go on a date but the thought of conjuring up a samey restaurant scene- which I knew was needed- left me feeling really uninspired. I deliberated about the scene and even started to dread writing it which made me postpone working on the project altogether. I didn’t want to move forward without having written it because it was pivotal but I was also too uninspired to write it. The break I took enabled me to work on other projects in the meanwhile and though this may sound cliché, I allowed myself to trust the process. I didn’t know when I would feel inspired to press on with the scene without deeming it a chore but I didn’t allow myself to ponder on it.

Inspiration Will Always Come and When it Does, it Feels Great!

When the idea did eventually come, it was instant. I found myself looking out of the windows of a vehicle as it crawled through traffic one day and the road happened to be one lined with restaurants, most prominently South Asian restaurants. A lover of this type of cuisine, rich curry dishes in cartons began to spring to mind. Did I fancy a take-away curry that night? Nope. My main character and her man did though! Out of nothing, a hiccup in the construction of my novel was remedied without me once ever having to suffer the ails of writer’s block.

This recently happened again when my main character was returning home to get on with some errands whilst considering major life choices. I wanted to document her journey home from the address that she had previously been staying at but couldn’t think of anything other than a monotonous description of her walking through the street, holding her bags and possibly catching a train or bus. Then one day the idea of her bumping into someone significant came to me and I decided to zoom in on the details of their interaction opposed to her journey home, the prospect of which, even bored me to oblivion.

I make it a thing to grasp at ideas that pop into my head IN THE MOMENT during a work in progress. Never take it for granted- being a human being, you might actually forget it and that could be disastrous for progress. So, unleash your inner BFG and capture those ideas and treat them like the magic they are.