Ten tips for finding inspiration for your novel

By   Hannah Bickerton 5 min read

So, you decided to write a book. You realised you had something very important to say, a story to tell; and you couldn’t wait to get started. Then you sat down, your head filled with images of book launches and signings, shaking hands with Stephen King over cocktails, and began. If you’re lucky, the words just came pouring out of you until you had 100,000 perfect words, but maybe they didn’t…

Writing isn’t always easy, no matter what people think. Let’s face facts and acknowledge that sometimes it’s quite boring, and quite lonely. No matter how detailed your plan or extensive your mind-map, there comes a point where everyone feels a little, well, uninspired.

I know it’s tempting to ramble – watching that word count slowly climb is so addictive that it’s easy to forget that the words need to be relevant and interesting. Chances are your editor will cut any pointless narrative when your manuscript is finished, so save yourself some time and avoid unnecessary waffling.

So, how can you make sure everything you write is of substance and relevant to your story’s trajectory? How do you make sure that your inspiration doesn’t dry up after the second rejection letter or fiftieth day sitting in the same spot staring at the same pages? This is how…

1. Get traditional: Try and leave your laptop alone for a few hours and write with a pen and paper. Not only will this remove any distractions but the change from routine may give you a fresh perspective and get those cogs whiring.

2. Get some experience: No, I’m not talking about the tortured artist cliché; you don’t have to develop unhealthy habits or take huge risks to write good literature, but it does help to get out and about. Go to a café and eavesdrop on some conversations or take a walk and see what catches your eye – if something grabs your attention, write about it! Even if whatever you write down doesn’t end up in your final draft, it’s a great habit to get into.

3. Exercise: It’s easy to get stuck in a physical rut as well as a mental one. Sitting in the same spot drinking from the same mug day-in day-out can become restrictive; it’s hard to think out of the box when every day is the same. The best way to get out of your head is to distract it, or exhaust it: go running, go to the gym – exercise your body and your mind will follow.

4. Get Fictional: Sometimes your personal life has to take priority, and it can be difficult to even think about writing when there’s a lot going on. It’s easy to go days or weeks without writing a single word, but didn’t anyone ever tell you that all fiction has some truth in it? If there’s something specific in your life that’s particularly emotive, channel that feeling and write your story down as if you were a character in your novel; you can always adapt it in the future to fit your storyline. Think about what you write as non-linear; a beautiful sentence can be adapted, it just has to exist.

5. Talk it through: Are you the sort of writer who likes to keep things private? Do your friends and family even know you’re writing a book? If they don’t, it’s time to change that. I’m not saying you need to hand out your manuscript to passers-by, but it can be invaluable to get feedback on your work. You may be so absorbed in your story that you’ve missed a major plot flaw or repeated yourself. Ask one of the people closest to you to read the first few chapters and, without telling them the ending, ask them what they think is going to happen – their answer might surprise and inspire you!

6. ‘Good artists borrow, great artists steal’: Obviously don’t read and then regurgitate, but if you know your style and you know the authors who exemplify it (probably your favourites) it’s so important that you get familiar with their work. The more you read, the more your writing will flow – I can guarantee that. Every great artist has been inspired by another; now it’s your chance…

7. Go back to basics: Struggling to write beyond the major events in your novel? Don’t know how to write sub-plots and fill in the gaps? Try writing down the most relevant keywords relating to your novel. If you were writing about crime, you might start with: murder, law, escape, violence,… Once these primary themes are down, go through each one and think of five more words that relate. For ‘law’ you could put down court, barrister, fear, suits… Doing this may just help those smaller themes develop, or maybe even an entire sub-plot.

8. Get emotional: Lots of people think that the best writing comes out in times of vulnerability or emotional intensity. Whether or not that’s true, it can’t be denied that when we’re feeling particularly emotional, it’s often easier to get something out. It can be edited later! So, watch a film, listen to a song, think about your childhood dog – whether you’re writing fiction, non-fiction or a memoir, the feelings are bound to trigger something.

9. Work remotely: Sometimes, especially with particular genres, it’s hard to get inside the head of your protagonist or one of your characters. So, why not do some fieldwork? Is your character struggling with a particular relationship? Have they been feeling guilty about something? Imagine a question they may have and Google it – Google is (very helpfully) full of people querying every issue under the sun. If you get lucky there may be an entire forum dedicated to a topic relevant to your novel. There’s nothing quite like some first-hand accounts to get that inspiration flowing – though maybe avoid this tip if your narrator is a blood-thirsty murderer…

10. Be patient. Sometimes you just have to wait that dry spell out. We can’t all be inspired the whole time, and sometimes the in-between bits come when you’re not. If you’re feeling uninspired, there’s a good chance parts of your character’s lives are uninspiring too: think about the little moments of life that almost don’t seem worth documenting. They’re such an important part of every story.

Gabrielle recently completed her BA in English Literature at SOAS, University of London. During her degree, she worked and interned part-time at literary agencies and publishing houses. Gabrielle joined whitefox in October 2018 and is responsible for social media management, book marketing and the whitefox blog.

Hannah Bickerton
Hannah Bickerton
Hannah has worked in marketing for nine years, specialising in strategy development for start-ups and EdTech companies. Having recently jumped across industries to join the Whitefox team, Hannah isn’t a complete stranger to the publishing world with previous employment at Macmillan and TES Global. She is now dedicated to ensuring that anyone who has something interesting to say knows all about whitefox.