As I sat down to write this post, a thunderstorm kicked up outside. I’m lucky enough to have a second story office window that has a perfect view of the mountains behind my house. For some people a thunderstorm might not be that big of a deal, but to a southern California native, any weather that deviates from the usual blue skies overhead is exciting. (Not that I’m complaining because the weather here is awesome, but even perfection can be monotonous.) But the amazing lightning display, dark, low-hanging clouds and claps of thunder suddenly give me the urge to finish the gothic romance I’ve had sitting on my computer for months. Motivation and inspiration, which are almost interchangeable in story writing, are not just important, but, for me, they are essential.
There are two kinds of motivation. One type comes from within. It is the voice inside that tells you to keep writing and it is separate from the things that motivate a story. I started writing more than a decade ago when getting published was such a long shot, it seemed I had more chance of becoming an astronaut than an author. Fortunately, I’ve always had aside career– teaching.
I started writing back in the day when agents wouldn’t even look at an email and only accepted snail mail queries and manuscripts. It was a grueling, discouraging and expensive way to beg someone to take notice of my stories. And yet, I kept writing. My story ideas and the characters floating my head wouldn’t let me quit. So I wrote. I would occasionally catch my husband rolling his eyes as if to say poor, delusional woman, whenever he spotted me hunched over my keyboard. Of course, now, he even offers to do the dishes so I can go up to the office and write.
So I guess my motivation to write has always been intrinsic. Even when my stories never left my hard drive, I kept on plunking that keyboard. And even though my motivation to write can easily be thwarted by life’s mishaps and stress producers, I still always manage to find my way back to my characters and stories. A good example of this is that while I write this my twenty-one year old son is preparing to travel to South Africa and work at a penguin and waterfowl rehabilitation center and I’m not certain I’ll be able to stop worrying about him long enough to write anything coherent let alone worthy of putting in front of a reader. But two months is a long time and I plan to muddle through.
My stories will beckon me. I’m just glad I talked him out of primate rehabilitation and into penguins. I was having terrible nightmares about monkeys.
The second type of motivation for story writing comes from the surrounding world of interesting people, out of the ordinary events, things that make us cry and things that make us laugh.
Occasionally, I will spot a complete stranger who inspires a story. I recently wrote a post about a young guy in a beat up car who looked as if he had all his belongings with him, including a cat that was lounging in the back window of his car. Immediately several intriguing scenarios popped into my head about this guy’s story.
If I read about a historical time period that interests me I find myself suddenly wanting to be a part of that world and to develop characters that fit in it. Sometimes I remember back to my own life and some of the funny, sad, poignant or romantic moments find their way into my stories. I’m always amazed how easy it is to relive an emotional moment from the past as if it was happening right then.
I lost my mom to cancer years ago and I can relive every second of that heartache decades later.Reviving those emotions, no matter how difficult, can really motivate and push depth into a story.
While I’m no longer a new adult (although I prefer not to think of myself as an old adult) I’m surrounded by people aged twenty to thirty. My parents were blessed with ten grandchildren in a decade. My house is often filled with twenty-something’s who skate, ride motocross, go to concerts, play horrendously violent video games for hours and spend a ridiculous amount of time staring at their phones.
As an author of young and new adult novels, my home is the perfect motivational place for my stories. I can immerse myself in their world without leaving my living room. Then when my story characters come to life in my head, I can easily add in attitudes, interests and dialog. And I would like to credit the strong language in my books to my son who uses the f-word as an adjective for every noun whether it fits or not. Not something I’m terribly proud of but it is what it is and he doesn’t smoke or drink so I consider myself lucky.
Motivation has definitely not been a problem for me. I see story ideas everywhere which can sometimes be a problem because at times I have too many stories in my head at once. But I’ve learned to weed out the silly ideas (like the ones I come up with in the middle of a sleepless night that seem so brilliant in the dead of night but sound ridiculous in the morning).
For me my real motivation comes when I have characters in my head that I just have to put down on paper. Plotting comes second to character development. I start formulating my main characters in my mind long before I write anything down. And they follow me around for days. If I go on a hike or run, they’re holding conversations in mind. I don’t always know what they look like right away but I know who they are, what their back story is and how they react to each other. And then those voices in my head tell me to get to my computer and start typing.
Tess Oliver is a USA Today bestselling author of young adult, new adult and adult romances. She lives in southern California on a mini-suburban ranch with her husband, kids and a lot of adorable animals. She’s also a teacher with a Masters in curriculum and instruction. She loves any movie set in 19th century England, any book written by Jane Austen, any food containing chocolate and any song sung by Eddie Vedder.
After leaving high school, with a hard won diploma and the title of most likely to break hearts, Alexander “Nix” Pierce has left his wild, out of control years mostly behind him. A small inheritance from his grandfather has given him the funds to open up his tattoo shop, Freefall, and he has started to pull his life together. Aside from trying to keep his best friend, Dray, from killing himself in the fight ring, and his slight obsession with a pin-up model he’s never met, Nix’s life is going smoothly . . . until Scotlyn James, the object of his obsession, walks into his shop.
Ever since a tragic accident killed her family and left her alone in the world, Scotlyn James hasn’t spoken one word. Up until now she didn’t care that she had no way of talking to people. Her awful aunt would never have listened, and Lincoln Hammond the arrogant, selfish man who pulled her from the streets of Los Angeles wouldn’t hear her words if she could speak. But when Lincoln insists she get a tattoo to cover up a scar on her side, Scotlyn meets the artist, Nix Pierce. And now she longs for her voice. Now she has found someone who will hear her.
Caution: This title contains strong language, alcohol use, violence, and sexual situations.