What are some tips for aspiring writers on using their everyday lives as inspiration? originally appeared on Quora - the place to gain and share knowledge, empowering people to learn from others and better understand the world.
Answer by Barbara Claypole White, Bestselling author, OCD advocate, and Guiding Scribe of WFWA:
I have two copies of a T-shirt that reads, "Careful, or you'll end up in my novel." That's a genuine warning because everything around me is fair game.
Keep your writing radar switched on 24/7. If you have horrible cramp at 3:00 a.m., write down how it feels in excruciating detail; if you're in a car dealership and some guy has a bizarre walk, describe it on paper; if you're in a hospital waiting room while your husband has surgery, open your laptop and transcribe snippets of conversation. I've done the later three times now and have created a bulging file of southernisms that (a) thrill the Brit in me (b) end up in my manuscripts and (c) distract me from terror. Husband + surgery = potential freak out. Which brings me to...
When a family crisis hits, fold your emotions into your manuscript rather than allow emotional upheaval to derail your writing. Examine strong emotions, especially negative ones, and find fresh ways of describing accompanying physical reactions. So much emotion falls flat on the page because writers--me included--opt for lazy sentences. Saying, "Her stomach churned," is easier than finding a unique description of how that actually feels to your point-of-view character. As Chuck Palahniuk says, "Unpack, don't take shortcuts." (Read, memorise, and inhale this.)
Carry a notepad everywhere and keep one in your car. Any time you see something unusual, write it down. I once spent five minutes watching dust motes in my childhood church in England because my little brain was thinking, "Ohh, I need to describe that in a story." Eventually I did.
Follow instincts that whisper, "Hmm, that's weird." After I found a dead mockingbird on my garden, I wrote "Dead mockingbird" on a Post-It note and shoved it in my 'miscellaneous inspiration' dumper drawer. Apparently not once, but twice. Several years later, I found those notes. Two was a heaven-sent sign, and that poor bird had an important role to play in the story that became "Echoes of Family."
Another little trick that I've found useful: turn family movie night into a writing exercise. I can't plot, and I can't outline, but I'm a visual person who can analyze storytelling on the screen.
Daily life is brimming with inspiration. All you have to do is pay attention. True story: I was in the hairdresser's admiring a piece of art on the wall when my stylist started talking about the artist. "You should meet her," she said, "she's a girlie welder." A girlie welder. My writing senses pinged like a tuning fork. I contacted the artist, I interviewed her, and now the heroine of my work-in-progress is Katie Mack, girlie welder extraordinaire.