Although I’ve written about how to deal with writer’s block and artist’s block more times than I can remember, I thought that I’d do something very slightly different in this article and talk about how to look for inspiration. Because, yes, sometimes you actively have to look for inspiration – rather than waiting for it to come to you.
So, here are a few tips and/or reminders that will help you search for inspiration.
1) Know how to take inspiration: I’ve written a more detailed article about this subject but, in short, taking inspiration properly means looking at the underlying concept/idea behind something and then doing something at least slightly different with that idea.
Although I’m not a copyright lawyer (and this isn’t legal advice), my reading on the subject seems to show that most types of copyright law are explicitly designed to promote this type of inspiration. In short, copyright laws usually protect the exact way that a particular concept or idea is expressed, but not the underlying idea/concept itself.
For example, both “Babylon 5” and “Star Trek: Deep Space Nine” are science fiction TV shows about everyday life on a space station far from Earth, with a focus on the military-like officers who run the station. This basic concept probably cannot be copyrighted. However, the specific characters, alien designs, set designs etc.. in each show are copyrighted because they are a highly-specific interpretation of this general idea.
Once you know how to take inspiration properly, then the number of inspirations available to you will expand rapidly. Plus, if you’re worried that this means that your art or fiction won’t be completely “original”, then don’t worry. All that these feelings mean is that you need to find more inspirations. Basically, the more different inspirations you have, the more original your creations will be. Plus, it’s important to remember that there’s no such thing as a “100% original” creative work. Everything is inspired by something.
2) Learn to think like a critic: Although there’s the famous saying that a critic is just a failed artist/writer, there’s a lot to be said for thinking like a critic if you’re an artist or a writer. You can learn how to do this by reading and/or watching as many reviews as you can find, in addition to possibly trying to write reviews yourself.
But what does any of this have to do with looking for inspiration? Simply put, a critic’s job is to study and analyse creative works and then write a brief description of how the creative work in question “works”.
A critic has to look at, say, how a director uses lighting to create a particular atmosphere or how a thriller writer uses sentence and chapter length to ramp up the tension. Not only does a critic have to be able to “reverse-engineer” creative works in order to see what techniques have been used, they also have to judge whether these techniques work… and why.
In other words, being a critic forces you to take a more scientific and scholarly approach to films, games, novels etc… Although this might sound like it would take the fun out of these things and turn you into an insufferable snob, this is only a potential problem if you aren’t a creative person.
If you’re a creative person, then thinking like a critic just means that everything you see could potentially teach you a new technique that you’ll probably want to try out. And, well, wanting to try something out is usually a good sign of being inspired.
3) Look everywhere: Simply put, there are no dividing lines when it comes to inspirations. Writers don’t only have to be inspired by other writers. Painters don’t only have to be inspired by other painters etc..
For example, the largest influences on my art include things like: a film called “Blade Runner“, the use of colours in a set of fan-made “Doom II” levels, various heavy metal/punk album covers, the 1990s, Youtube videos of abandoned shopping centres, manga/anime, the film noir genre, old horror novel covers, old “survival horror” videogames etc…. Very few of these things are paintings. Yet, I can use the techniques and ideas I’ve learnt from them to create art that looks like this:
So, the important thing to remember here is that good sources of inspiration can be found anywhere. Inspiration is everywhere. Just remember that you don’t only have to be inspired by things in the genre that you’re working in.
Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂