by Sofia Andrewski
It is a common experience for a writer—or even an enthusiastic reader—to stare with awe at the words and ideas imparted on paper by the great authors and storytellers. Sometimes it is hard to understand where their inspiration came from, whether it be the imaginative worlds of Tolkien or J.K. Rowling, or the complicated network of passageways in Mervyn Peake’s castle Gormenghast. There are a million and one other examples of course, a lot of them quite ordinary. For instance, little accents of character, or an intricate plot-line. Sometimes these little touches strike the reader as a brand of genius.
If you are dabbling with writing, these strokes of brilliance in other’s works can be quite depressing. Thoughts such as, I could never do this, or, my imagination isn’t good enough, may be overwhelming. Sometimes it seems better to close our books and ignore the existence of every decent writer while we are attempting to put pen to paper.
However, this could be a mistake. Whilst no one wants to plagiarise, humans learn best by imitation. Looking at how something is done is a surer way of picking it up than turning our backs and trying to figure out how to do it ourselves. When it comes to generating fresh ideas, or recharging inspiration levels, it is helpful to re-read authors we admire, and work out why their stories are so immersive.
There is another benefit of scouring for new concepts. Not only does the mere act loosen the mind enough to see things from a new perspective—which can actually alter our style of prose—but it puts the subconscious to work, encouraging it to come up with new connections. Countless writers confess to forming the first structures of their story from ideas they had during sleep.
This is something I have experienced many times, and even just a few nights ago is another example: in the dream I was quite impressed by the inventiveness of one of the dream characters, as he found a variety of uses for a magnetic shield. I remember thinking in the dream, wow, I never would have thought of using it like that, completely unaware that it was indeed my brain that had come up with all the ideas—let alone the fact it was constructing the whole environment I was so engaged in. I woke up convinced that if my brain does that every night, creating such an absorbing environment, then surely it is capable of creating enough concepts for a decent story!
There is a certain beauty in the way the mind works, and how the imagination can flex its muscles, mixing bits of information together and coming out with something new and personal. Sometimes it is easy to forget we all have this ability, even the novice writer. It doesn’t really matter if you can’t afford to travel the world, or can’t break out of a chain of mundane situations; as long as we have access to a library, a world full of stories and inspiration awaits.