Inspiration: Take it where you can get it

by Janis Thomas

I’m busy. I know, you’re busy too. We’re all busy.

For most authors, writing is a pursuit wedged between other responsibilities. Day jobs, motherhood, fatherhood, etc. We don’t have a lot of time to navel-gaze, waiting to be struck by a brilliant idea, or hoping the muse will show up and flood our grey matter with perfect prose. It is a difficult occupation we have chosen, although I do feel that writing chose me, and not the other way around. But I digress.

As writers, we ask ourselves to create something out of nothing, to construct a world where before there was none, give birth to characters, and weave a compelling tale that touches readers and causes them to think, feel, debate, laugh, cry. Again, we create this out of nothing, in those small blocks of minutes or hours that our schedule allows.

Where do you get your ideas?

In my workshops, I often get the following question: Where do you get your ideas? I find this an interesting inquiry, as I am not a science fiction or fantasy writer. I don’t have crazy, twisted, outrageous plot lines. I write women’s fiction. But I do give the most honest answer I can when asked.

[clickToTweet tweet=”Inspiration is anywhere and everywhere at any moment of any given day. via @OC_Writers & @janis_thomas #authorlife” quote=”Where do I find inspiration? Anywhere and everywhere at any moment of any given day.”]

Inspiration is all around us.

We have become a distracted species. Distracted by small screens that offer us instant entertainment. We disconnect from the world. For writers, this can be our doom. Because we are the record-keepers, the political analysts, the psychologists, priests, lovers, warriors, and teachers of our time. And because we are all of those, we have to look up from the screens—no, wait. We have to turn off the screens and look around. We need to see the people around us, listen to their conversations, soak in the situations, be present in every moment of every day. It’s there, you know. Inspiration. Even the most seemingly insignificant detail can blossom into an entire novel. But you have to be open to it. And more, you have to seek it out. Wherever you are. Whenever you can.

The Moment that Built a Story

A few weeks ago, I stopped into the Starbucks at my local Target, desperate for caffeine. I was running late and relieved to see that there was only one woman in line ahead of me. She was not a slight person, middle-aged, and casually dressed in capris pants and a tank top. Over the tank, she wore a lovely, long, sleeveless, open vest of some sort of diaphanous material. I noticed it right away.

Within a moment, my hopes of being on time to my appointment were dashed as the woman proceeded to order several complicated drinks and about a dozen gift cards. I blew out a sigh and made a decision. I could have pulled out my phone and checked my texts or emails, played Words with Friends or made a call. But instead, I chose to engage with the woman.

As she waited for her drinks, I complimented her on her vest. We chatted for a few minutes, and I learned that she was buying the gift cards for Teacher Appreciation Week at her children’s schools. I also discovered that she was extremely self-conscious about showing her bare arms. I assuaged her fears by telling her, honestly, how terrific she looked. She was surprised, I think, to receive a compliment in line at Starbucks, but also delighted. So delighted, in fact, that she asked the barista to stop her order and make me a coffee and to put it on her bill.

Inspiration Blooms

I drove away, thinking about that woman. I wondered why she was embarrassed by her upper arms. Had her husband made some mean comment to her? Had one of her children jiggled that flesh jokingly, not knowing how hurt she might be by the playful gesture? I thought about how, despite being uncomfortable with her bare arms, she bravely chose to wear something that not only revealed them, but accentuated them. Would I be that brave? What could be going on in her life that would embolden her? A Renaissance? A reinvention? An epiphany that life is short and we should wear whatever we damn well please?

From these musings, I began to build a character, and construct a situation around that character that would ultimately become a story idea.

So there you have it. A brief interaction in line at Starbucks with a complete stranger, who I will likely never see again, provided me with inspiration for a novel. It was there, right in front of me. I only had to look for it and be open to it.

Plus, I got a free cup of coffee out of the deal. Pretty cool, right?


Janis Thomas

Janis Thomas, Author and co-Leader of the Novel Intensive workshop

Janis Thomas is the author of three critically-acclaimed humorous Women’s Fiction novels, Something New, Sweet Nothings, and Say Never. Award-winning Murder in A-Minor is the first book in her Musical Murder Mystery series featuring songwriting detective Samantha Wedlock. She has recently signed a two-book deal with Lake Union, the women’s fiction imprint of Amazon Publishing, for her latest two novels of domestic suspense. Janis is a popular workshop leader and speaker, an editor, and a passionate writing advocate.

Find out more about her books and the Novel Intensive workshop for aspiring novelists on her website at



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