Wednesday, April 22, 2009

The Three I's

I'm going to steal three keywords off the cover of one of my favorite magazines to illustrate today's post.


This is the cover of a blank journal (ISBN#9781593594930, published by Peter Pauper Press) with a detail from of one of Josephine Wall's paintings, The Spirit of Flight. It contains 192 ruled blank pages of acid-free/archival paper, and the binding lies flat when you open it. One of the prettiest blank books I've seen at the store.

I make most of my own journals, but every so often I'll pick up a ready-made that catches my eye. Beautiful cover art on a blank book may seem like a waste, but each time I see an image that inspires me, I usually need to write as soon as possible.


One of my favorite magazines, Art Scene International, has wall-to-wall ideas for characters, settings, scenes, etc. in every issue, with art from some of the hottest young artists from around the globe. Finding this magazine for me was like discovering Frank Frazetta all over again.

Reading fiction these days I recognize a lot of characters and ideas modeled on celebrities and television. There's nothing wrong with this, but I'd like to see more writers stretch their imaginations in other directions. Magazines like Art Scene are great alternative idea wells.


When I wanted to learn how to properly paint watercolors, I picked up an issue of Watercolor Artist to have a look-through and see if I could find any useful tips. While I will never get anywhere in the same solar system of ability that the contributors possess, I have learned a lot about technique as well as expression, meaning, reasons to paint and why people even bother with a medium that is so demanding, unpredictable and frustrating. I think the cover art of this issue pretty much answers that question (and also gives away where I stole the three keywords, too.)

Almost every writer I know does something creative that has no writing involved in it, such as painting, sewing, knitting, crafting, gardening, dancing, playing a musical instrument and so on. It's not a requirement that a writer have another creative hobby or sideline, but I think it helps. Maybe because writing is the only art that takes place inside the head where no one else can see it.

Inspiration, ideas and instruction should also be shared. In comments to this post name a source where you find one or more of the three i's (or if you're running low on all three, just toss your name in the hat) by midnight EST on Thursday, April 23, 2009. I'll draw one name at random from everyone who participates and send the winner the brand-new unused blank journal, both magazines, and a surprise. This giveaway is open to everyone on the planet, even if you've won something here at PBW in the past.


  1. This might be weird but I really like looking at bridal magazines for inspiration. A lot of the models they use have really interesting faces. And I tend to like big poofy dresses on my characters so it's good for that too. :)

  2. Like you, I often see an image that inspires me and have to incorporate it somehow. More often, though, it's that someONE (a character) pops into my head and I need to tell his or her story to find out more about him/her. I do, however, have a horrible weakness for blank books. I have to be hauled bodily away from that section in the bookstore.

    I get ideas from "what if" scenarios that run through my head constantly. Usually, again, it's about a certain character. They often come from something I'm reading/watching, but they come equally often from the random cool things I find on the internet (thank you, StumbleUpon). My favorite thing once upon a time, though, was to browse online galleries like Elfwood for pictures that caught my attention.

    My "side" hobbies are photography, drawing and painting, though I do the first far more often than I do the second. My photography allows me to capture images I can't put into words, but I'll sometimes draw images from my photography into my writing. My drawing and painting are usually informed by my writing and/or photography.

  3. I get all three I's from my local library.


    Cover art from the many many many books, some staring straight at you from the new book section.

    Flip open any book and be thrust into a scene. Also a great way to come across character names.

    cover flap copy will set a scene for you, introduce a character with maybe a flaw or an obstacle, and you can use that to jump off into something of your own. Make like Grahame-Smith and try mashing two books together. That's always fun.

    Library patrons are almost as interesting as the characters in books. Librarians even more so. I like to watch the patrons using the computers; the frustrations, the bobbing heads to music on youtube and the like.

    There's a ton of magazines available for perusal.

    And bonus! It's always free. Unless you forget a due date and have to pay a fine, but those are minimal if you're careful, or have a friendly library system that notifies you when books are due.

    If I win, may I request to only be sent Watercolor Artist? And the surprise, too, of course. Because then you could choose one or two other people to win the blank book and Art Scene International. Afterall, wasn't sharing one of your points? :)


  4. Hi Lynn

    Here I am at almost 1am, still struggling to find the perfect links to bring my plot together, when I saw your post. Procrasination, thy name is blog...but here goes anyway!

    Most of my ideas come from 'what if' questions, usually brought on by something I've read or a person I've seen or spoken to. Inspiration, for me, comes from nature, craftwork, and these quiet reaches of the night that allow time to think without too much noise or interruptions. And the best instruction I've received on writing has come from other writers who have been kind enough to share their experience and time and knowledge.

    Thanks for a great blog, and a few moments of contemplation that had nothing to with my WIP, and were rather refreshing.

  5. I think it's pretty normal to be inspired by art. I like to look at concept art (usually for fantasy-type stuff). Some of my favorite places to go are icon communities on LiveJournal. A lot of people will take stock photographs and turn them into something fantastic that really gets my imagination working, especially if the pictures are of landscapes.

    Wow, my word verification is "paper"!

  6. I find inspiration from reading quotes about writing and looking through art books...Dali, Munch...

    I find ideas sometimes from the same place, but usually just by talking to people or reading books.

    I find instruction through instructors, friends, family, non-fiction books, and Writer's Digest Magazine.

  7. I get inspiration from my friends art. My best friend is a very good artist and she helps me more than she realizes.

    Also, by flipping through tattoo magazines.

  8. I'm most often inspired by nature. If I get stuck on a project (of almost any kind), I go for a hike if I can.

  9. I used to play the violin, but it hurts my neck & left shoulder, so I stopped doing it.

    I'd like to play the piano again (if I can buy a decent unit at a decent price).

    I sometimes watch movies and/or listen to music when I'm low on ideas.

    *tossing my name in the hat* :)

  10. I've finished 1 book, am almost finished a 2nd and have started 4.

    Book 1 - inspiration came from other category romance books that I'd been reading for the past 15 years. 100 pages completed.

    Book 2 - inspiration was foggy, but was partially informed by someone I know who was going through a felonious assault court case. 4 pages completed.

    Book 3 - inspiration came in the 6th or 7th hour of an 8 hour drive back home, in the dark, alone, looking over a desert mountain scape. It started with the character's name and where he came from. FINISHED at 430 pages.

    Book 4 - inspiration came from a scene that popped into my head. A little bit of backstory and a blazingly angry woman showed up and she wanted her story written. 186 pages and still working on it.

  11. Solidus3:28 AM

    My ideas often come from science mags - but generally not from the main thrust of the articles! It's the throwaway comments or tangential thoughts that are often the most interesting.

  12. tossing name in hat please

  13. Travel inspires me, even just dreaming about travel.

    My friends have introduced me to a gazillion hobbies - fabric and paper marbeling, quilting, beading and soap making, for the short list.

    actually, my friends are great sources for ideas and inspiration, too.

  14. verplue7:44 AM

    I crochet -- partly to watch my cat "help" with the yarn. :)

  15. I find inspiration from covers of books (what I imagine from the cover rarely fits the story), movie trailers and posters (ditto), and sometimes from the newspaper.

    How about another post on journal making? I would love to see pictures of some of your journals.


  16. I get most of my ideas from news stories, and sometimes from news photos. They'll often trigger a 'what if' scenario, and I'm off.

    Some of my best instruction come from song lyrics. They have an even tighter framework than we do, and have to say a lot with just a few words. It's amazing what they do.

  17. Going for a walk and enjoying the beauty in simple things inspires me. Getting my head out of all the stuff that's going on and just focusing on the beauty in today.

  18. Inspiration: I love art galleries and the Web has made them easily accessible. One of my favorite sites is The artists here range from just starting out to "holy cow, how did they DO that?". You can mark your favorites and even engage with the artists if you so desire.

    Ideas: See above. Sometimes the ideas come fully formed, sometimes they don't. I've written more than a handful of short stories based off an image I've seen (and often saved) somewhere.

    Instruction: I've taken workshops, attended creative writing classes, used "how to" books, and read more blogs than I can count in hopes of learning more about this craft and the business of publishing. One of the most influential courses, though, had to be Holly Lisle's BN class. Although we didn't get to complete the course due to Real Life interference, I'm still working with all the tools she gave me.

  19. Reality television has been a source of most of my work. It only takes one quirky person to have ideas spring out of nowhere.

  20. Kristen9:35 AM

    Music/song lyrics can be my inspiration.
    Commercials have also done it. Sometimes a phrase overheard, an emotion on a face or maybe a scene from a tv show I might enjoy.

    Instruction: Learn from blogs from authors I like. Books suggested from a select few of them. Some workshops and books.

    Ideas usually pop into my head in the dark of night when I can't sleep or am knee deep in cleaning.

  21. Inspiration - from nature and life, music, just being observant to people and being open to new ideas.

    Ideas - from blogs, other writers, my writers group, ideas often pop into my head while walking my dog.

    Instruction - I am a mixed media artist and I also spin yarns and weave cloth. I get instruction anywhere I can get it. Online classes, other writers blogs etc,

    Just recently found your blog and I really like it.


  22. Hi

    I came to your blog via How Publishing Really Works and it's so lovely to see a professional writer say how many writers do something creative other than writing, as I often feel guilty 'wasting' what could be writing time with sewing, embroidery or knitting but I do find the more I practice observing detail in my 'visible' crafting the better I get at observing detail everywhere for my writing, so I guess I shouldn't feel guilty! As for where I get my ideas from, it's mainly the town where I live (Kingston in London), I'd always wanted to write but had trouble coming up with ideas, I then moved to Kingston about 5 years ago and the ideas literally came flooding in, from the iron railings in the park, to an old bomb shelter I can see if I peak over a neighbour's fence, to an old man standing in the street, a fashion show at a department store, the list is endless! Kingston's quite a literary town and quite a lot of authors live here, must be something in the air! As for inspiration and instruction, I like to read blogs from fellow writers, particularly ones that have already 'made it', such as Neil Gaiman and Nicola Morgan, it gives a sort of feeling of 'they can do it, they're helping me to do it with all their advice, I can do it', it gives confidence and a sense of a community.

  23. Color ideas come from art; design ideas pop up everywhere but especially from American Craft magazine for some reason. Most new design ideas evolve organically from my own past designs. And, frequently, a deadline causes some 'new' idea to pop out of my head.

    Oh, I design bead jewelry.

  24. Just toss name in the hat.

  25. Hmmm...there are very few crafts I don't do, but I don't think I've ever been inspired by them. I love great art, but...nope, don't think that's ever done it either. I think for me, it's the constant music in my head, whether it's background to the characters insisting I write their story, or a new song or lyric I have to get on paper.

    I play a variety of instruments and also sing. Music has been a part of my life forever and it can be that one four-bar movement in something I hear that suddenly brings a new character alive, and that song might play in the background of my mind while I'm writing. I don't listen to music while I write though, interferes with the story's music.

    I did see a special on the weather channel a few weeks ago though on the Galveston flood of 1900 and had an entire first chapter on paper in less than twenty minutes, but that's a first for me.

    Long winded this morning, aren't I?


  26. I like to browse the artwork at for inspiration. The people, the places, I'm sure they have stories already, but looking through them I can't help but come up with my own. :)

  27. Is Art Scene International available at US stores? I can't tell from their website.

  28. Valencia11:07 AM

    I have a few other creative endeavors but when I get stuck and need to be inspired, I get in the kitchen and cook. I play around with ingredients in my head until I have an idea that I just have to bring to life. I throw a bunch of unlikely things together - a lot of my recipes use staples from my native country along with some American ingredients - and find some people to share with. By the time the plates are empty, I'm ready to write again.

  29. the has a pic of the day, as does national geographic, and others. I often find inspiration and ideas in those. I've overdosed on instruction at the moment, so I've backed off on that.

  30. I get a lot of my inspiration from portraits and paintings. I collect a book of the little postcards you can get when you visit a museum - I add to it every time I end up in a museum gift shop.

  31. I'm in a deep low concerning my creativity. I guess some health problems are part of the problem. So, anyway, I'm not in a good place to share what I'm lacking and desperately looking for. It used to be anything, from people walking on the street to overhead dialogs, to movie or books, but now there is an empty space where these things used to be. Thus, throw my name into the hat...

  32. Cassandra wrote: If I win, may I request to only be sent Watercolor Artist? And the surprise, too, of course. Because then you could choose one or two other people to win the blank book and Art Scene International. Afterall, wasn't sharing one of your points?Sure, Cassandra, if your name pops out of the magic hat as our winner, I'll draw a second name and send them the journal and Art Scene. How does that sound?

  33. Cassandra wrote: If I win, may I request to only be sent Watercolor Artist? And the surprise, too, of course. Because then you could choose one or two other people to win the blank book and Art Scene International. Afterall, wasn't sharing one of your points?Sure, Cassandra, if your name pops out of the magic hat as our winner, I'll draw a second name and send them the journal and Art Scene. How does that sound?

  34. Sandy L wrote: How about another post on journal making? I would love to see pictures of some of your journals.Sure, I can put together one of those. Let me dig through my collection and take some snapshots. :)

  35. Road trips. Road trips inspire me for some reason.

    And I find ideas almost everywhere... TV will do it, a game will do it, reading will do it...

  36. Eileen wrote: Is Art Scene International available at US stores? I can't tell from their website.I buy my copies from the magazine rack at Barnes & Noble, Eileen, so I can give you a definite yes on this. :)

  37. Blogs.

    I look at your blog, Murderati and a wonderful foodblog by Aapplemint.

    The local library.

    Meditation on positive things like Spring, sunshine and wild flowers. :)

  38. I find inspiration is just about everything I read or watch. A scene in a movie with absolutely no dialogue--just a look between two characters--and I had an idea of my own. I newspaper article in West Texas about the eccentric millionaire--just a sentence from it--another idea.

    Unfortunately, finding so many ideas means I tend to bogged down with too many stories I want to tell and not sure what to focus on.

    New idea=oh shiny!

  39. Working in an auction house has been so stimulating. You wonder about the stories behind each piece. So inspiring.

  40. I get my ideas from people watching. I see every stranger as a mystery and as it is considered impolite to question people extensively about their backgrounds and life, I usually start to make something up. Then that snowballs into a story idea or a character and there you go.

  41. Reading non-fiction inspires me to write fiction. Real people are so wacky and interesting...and oh, there I go.

  42. ideas: I listen a lot (whether people realize it or not) and it has brought me a wealth of ideas. Probably more than I could ever use.

    inspiration: If I'm writing a specific scene certain music makes for a great catalyst.

    instruction: I learn more by 'doing' than anything else. Practice has been my best teacher.

  43. I have whole folders of artwork and photography stashed on the ol' hard drive for moments when I need inspiration. I find music helps too, especially when it comes to fleshing out the characters and finding out whats important to them.

    As for instruction...that's where wonderful blogs like PBW come into play.

  44. It seems most of my inspiration comes from my dreams...not the ones I have at night, but rather daydreams or thoughts just running around in my head.
    I get more concrete ideas from talking with people I love. Bouncing around my thoughts with others leads me to all sorts of wonderful ideas.
    And instruction, well, right now I'm finding it in blogs such as yours!

  45. Nature. When I'm in need of ideas, inspiration or instruction, I usually take a nice, long walk. I find all three on my treks, and it gives me some exercise, as well.

  46. Don't laugh, but I get a lot of ideas from Better Homes and Gardens and Home Depot. I love looking at floor plans, and I think a house says a lot about a person, so I build that into characters. And since I write ghost stories, I'm always looking for locations to place another spirit.

  47. I get inspiration from wild dreams I have, also just a pretty vivid imagination. ANother great source is sitting around telling lies with friends something always ends up on paper for me


  48. I like to go over to Epilogue to drool over fantasy art. :)

  49. I draw... mostly my characters. My art is starting to get realistic and that pleases me. I hope my writing is making similar improvements

  50. I find inspiration daily in my children and my two grandchildren. They just fill me with so much love and joy...that it seems impossible to think that they could do anything but inspire me.

  51. Used Book stores and the amazing cover art. There's one book store about 10 miles away that only has books from 1940-1990 in it, and just walking brain is on overload.

  52. Chaela4:56 AM

    Ideas often come to me in dreams. If I can manage to hold onto the dream thread long enough after waking, I write them down for later use.

  53. Inspiration: Music. All music from classical to hard rock. My imagination starts to fly and my hands twitch with the need to write before I forget something.

    Ideas: I'm a people watcher. I wonder how they ended up at the same bus stop, restraunt, movie theatre and most other places. So as you can guess, most of my stories start out with the character. And my mind does tend to stay in an urban fantasy realm. I've started keeping a small notebook with character ideas.

    Instruction: Forward Motion. I still re-read classes you gave at FM, along with other authors from the site. I've also taken other inexpensive courses online.

  54. I can find inspiration almost anywhere; it's following it through that's hard! For example, a friend and I were messing around in IRC with a bot another friend had made, and I hit accidentally on a line that I think would make a killer opening. Just like that!

  55. Inspiration can come from anywhere: a walk in the woods, a stroll on the beach, hanging out at the bookstore overhearing conversation, going to museums etc....

    I find ideas for stories in science magazines, online newspapers and old historic dcouments....

  56. I love Somerset Studios. It makes me heave a big internal sigh and gets the juices flowing again.

    I also love the Oprah magazine to put my finger on some big conflicts people are dealing with in their lives.

    Country House/Living magazine because I love learning how to turn junk into something awesome for the house.

    Gardening catalogues. Tons of them. Flowers, bulbs, seeds.

  57. Tossing my name in the hat

  58. Since I am running low on all three "I"'s I just throwing my hat in the ring for the prize!

  59. I get excited seeing things that are alike yet unalike. For example, a flower garden. Everything in the garden might be flowers, but the flowers are all different. Same thing with overflowing bookshelves at the store; bins of beads; a bank of river rocks. I think on some level that visual stimulus reminds me that I too have something unique to offer.