We get it: sometimes the muse just doesn’t want to come, no matter how earnestly you’re trying to bribe it. So, instead, you’ve turned to writing prompts, which aren’t working. You’ve devoured every single book in your genre (and outside of it). You’ve gone on ten-mile walks, hoping that an idea will strike you around the five-mile mark.
When all of these tried-and-true methods for writing inspiration have failed, it might be time to turn to some more, well, unusual methods. Here are five unorthodox places that you can go to find writing inspiration. Warning: they might just turn out to be the spooky jolt that you need!
1. An art gallery
A surprising number of writers counted themselves as painters. Sylvia Plath drew in order to inspire her to write poetry. John Updike, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, and Flannery O’Connor were cartoonists. True to form, Jack Kerouac painted using only spontaneous brushstrokes. Throughout history, visual art and literature has gone hand in hand, inspiring authors onwards.
If you’ve never dabbled in art yourself, you can simply drop by the nearest art gallery to view it. Overlooked by many a passerby, an art gallery is nevertheless a place that practically teems with stimulus. Walk into your local one and situate yourself in front of one of the paintings. Try and come up with a backstory to explain what’s happening in it. Or perhaps observe your fellow spectators in the gallery and create character profiles for them.
Spookify it: Specifically go in search of some of the eerier works of art out there. Perhaps tack on a museum with a creepy exhibit to your local art gallery tour. Do any museums nearby, for instance, happen to have mummies on display? Perfect.
2. The swimming pool
This one is for you if you find that you often get “Aha!” moments in the shower. For many people, the simple spray of shower water goes a long towards churning their creative gears, so why not go and find more water in which to submerge yourself? Bian Li, author of the The Hungry Lab, reports that she solves all of her problems underwater in a pool: “No phone. No internet. No talking. No noise pollution. Just the sound of breathing through my regulator, the calming lull of the ocean and my thoughts.”
Don’t fret if you don’t live near a swimming pool — simply get a humongous bath tub, as Dame Agatha Christie did. When she was renovating her mansion, she only had two demands. She told the architect, “I want a big bath, and I need a ledge because I like to eat apples.”
Spookify it: Swim (safely) into the deep end of the pool. Then dive as deep as you can go, until the water turns dark-blue and the light above the water at the top is dim. Imagine that you’re not in a recreational pool, but an ocean. What monsters might lurk around you here?
3. The airport
As Benjamin H. Bratton wrote in The Stack: On Software and Sovereignty, “Airports are not simulations of cities; rather cities are simulations of airports.” (And, as Love Actually testifies, you won’t be able to find anywhere else that provides as many heartfelt embraces.) When you walk into an airport, you enter a space where people are just about to step on a plane and begin a new chapter of their lives — and what better inspiration is there than that? There’s a story behind every departure and arrival: it’s just up to you to imagine it and fill in the blanks.
Spookify it: Visit the Denver Airport in particular. It has some eerie rumors floating about it, and the conspiracy theories about its strange oddities certainly don’t help its case.
4. The graveyard
Even if you don’t kill off your characters at the same rate as George R.R. Martin does, a graveyard can be an unexpected source of inspiration. Whether it’s an engraving on a tombstone or the thought that you’re walking amongst history and people who had led rich lives, it might be just the sort of thing that will get you thinking.
Incidentally, a graveyard is also a powerful creative wellspring when it comes to character naming. If you find that a character name generator isn’t working out for you, do what other famous authors have done and step into your local graveyard. It’s said that J.K. Rowling came up with the names for Alastor “Mad Eye” Moody and Minerva McGonagall in graveyards. Meanwhile, Charles Dickens was visiting a cemetery in Edinburgh when he came across the name ‘Ebenezer Scroggie.’ He turned it into the now iconic ‘Ebenezer Scrooge’ — a character from the classic A Christmas Carol.
Spookify it: Go at night. If you want to make it extra unsettling, bring a flashlight and a horror book to read while you sit against a tombstone.
5. An empty room
By “empty,” we mean completely bare. No desk. No phone. Only bring yourself, your mind, and the few select items that you absolutely wouldn’t be able to write without. Without any distractions, your mind is free to roam and make its own connections between ideas.
This is, by the way, Maya Angelou’s strategy when it comes to writing inspiration. She writes in complete isolation in a hotel room, even requesting that the walls be stripped of adornments. Only yellow pads, a dictionary, a thesaurus, a Bible, and the occasional sherry could be brought into the room. These were measures that she took in order to ensure that she wouldn’t be sidetracked, for inspiration, in the end, comes straight from your brain — not your surroundings.
Spookify it: Extra points if, instead of a hotel room, you walk into a house nearby — that has a reputation for being haunted.
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