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Guest Author Ashley Woodfolk: Finding Inspiration Everywhere

I mostly consider myself to be a contemporary writer.

I love writing about real world issues; about kissing; about music and art and people trying to figure out who they are as they’re still becoming.

So I look for inspiration in the real world. In the people I see on the subway, the songs I hear on Spotify playlists, the color of a shirt or a patch on a person’s backpack or a sentence I overhear someone say.

I rarely use photos for inspiration, and when I do, it’s always artsy portraits I see on Pinterest or Tumblr that perfectly encapsulate a character I already have in my head.

the beauty that remains cover

I think a lot of writers think of themselves as a certain “kind” of writer. They methodically look for inspiration in the places they’ve found it before, or they happen upon it in ways they’re used to discovering new stories for whatever “kind” of writer they’ve decided they are.

They get stuck, I guess. Comfortable.

But I want to challenge you to be open to encountering inspiration in unlikely places. And I’ll tell you why.

Last year, a friend of mine went to Ireland.

She posted a photo of a gorgeous cliffside in Galway, and I thought I’d die of jealousy.

Spoiler alert: I lived. But I kept returning to look at that photograph over and over again. The greens were so green and the color of the sky was the same dark blue as the water. There was something otherworldly and haunting about it, and about the caption she’d posted with it: “As above, so below.”

I bookmarked the photo, and I looked up other photos of (what I soon discovered were) the Cliffs of Moher. I imagined what it would be like to stand on a cliff like that, to feel so tiny in such an immensely beautiful place. I looked up the quote “As above, so below,” too, and discovered it’s the central doctrine of Hermeticism, and that it basically means everything in the universe is connected.

(This is a gross oversimplification of Hermeticism, but I’m trying to get to the point here.)

So anyway, I couldn’t get this picture, or this concept out of my head. And because my mind can’t help but tell itself stories about the things I become obsessed with, I started to build a world around the photograph.

If a people lived in this kind of environment, what might be most important to them?

What kinds of gods might they worship or pray to?

What would they risk everything for?

How would they live?

Who might they love?

These were questions I, as a contemporary writer, had never had to ask myself. But the questions came quickly and freely and they didn’t stop even once I had the beginnings of answers.

The world grew and grew until I was jotting down character names in my phone, and looking up night-blooming flowers, and reading about how the cycles of the moon push and pull at sea levels around the world (I’d decided these people might worship the moon; that the sea might be a constant enemy; that they might name their children after flowers that only showed their beauty to the stars)—things I never would have thought to research if I were writing a contemporary book.

As the world narrowed and I began to find the story tucked inside it, I realized I could still write about all of my favorite things: kissing and music and art and becoming. And I’d add a dash of Hermeticism—of that concept of as above, so below. Because if the moon can pry open the petals of flowers and make the sea rise and fall; if I, a contemporary writer, could start a fantasy story (maybe even a novel) from a photograph; if the possibility of inspiration is everywhere all at once; everything must really be more connected than it seems.

Anyway. Now, this kind of thing happens to me all the time.

Don’t decide what “kind” of writer you are too soon.

If you allow yourself to be open enough, inspiration can come from anywhere.

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