How to find writing inspiration: My personal journey

You could ask any writer. I’m sure they could tell you how they begin their writing process. But where do they find their writing inspiration?

Maybe inspiration strikes like lightning — the entire story, right there in their mind, neatly wrapped with a bow. Maybe they have a nugget of an idea and begin to expand from there. Maybe they have a notion of an interesting main character and build the plot around him or her.

For me, writing inspiration starts with place.

The most crucial aspects to the stories that I write regard the development of the characters and the setting. Many authors would disagree with this. They would argue that plot development is key, and from there you need to create characters and place around it. To each his own, I guess.

Northern Michigan is where I am inspired. It is far underrepresented in literature, in my opinion. Sure, you can read Hemingway’s The Torrents of Spring, or Steve Hamilton’s Alex McKnight series, or Mitch Albom’s The First Phone Call From Heaven, or Jim Harrison’s True North, or Travis Mulhauser’s Sweetgirl. For the most part, though, authors tend to stay away from the region. That is something I am intent on changing.

Though most of my writing is set in northern Michigan, I do not consider myself a regional author. Any issues you can find in cities across the country you can find in northern Michigan as well. I simply prefer to explore and interrogate these issues through the fictional lens of northern Michigan. There are passionate people. There are endless lakes and rivers and rolling hills and thick forests. There are hard times and triumphs, and there are laughs and tears.

Everyone needs a place to clear their mind, a respite from the troubles weighing us down. For me, nothing washes away the stresses of the world like the northern shores of the Great Lakes.

And once my own struggles disappear, I write.


  1. Its interesting to hear how authors find inspiration. As a NaNoWriMo ML I’m always amazed by the many processes within our group. My stories are very character-driven, but atmosphere or place often provides the initial spark. I say atmosphere because it can be almost like a mood I feel and then the image of the place becomes clearer as I start to write. The characters then tell their stories and plot emerges. To get the final book, it’s important for me to refine and enhance the plot afterwards, but plot isn’t what drives my inspiration or writing process. It sounds like we have a similar approach.

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  2. I agree with you. What you write reminds me of the first time I started to write a novel. There were ideas in my head, but I wasn’t ready to put anything on paper. So I drove out into the countryside, to a river from my childhood, and watched a few fly fishermen at work. By the time I returned to the city, images of where the opening of the narrative would take place – at a cabin on a river – had arrived unannounced. Thanks for posting this.

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  3. I think it is interesting how you identified place–northern Michigan–as your primary inspiration. Your brief description makes me curious to see the place for myself.

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  4. Lightning strike? Pretty rare I would have thought. I suspect there is no ‘right’ way to ‘write’ a story. Thank you for finding my blog and for following.’Best wishes,
    Andrew @ Bookheathen

    Liked by 1 person

  5. We so often forget each person is a unique individual. Even if there are similarities with others each is essentially different. And, so are our inspirations. Yours is geographical, others, character, others, plot, mine are true events from my ancestors and my own lives. There is no ‘right’ or ‘wrong’, no ‘rule’. Authors simply need to find their own ‘muse’.

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  6. You caught my interest discussing northern Michigan. I live in Charlotte, NC and have many friends who came here from Michigan. These people tend to go back for at least part of the summer. That’s a long way to go for a place they call home but they do it. I’d love to learn more about it. My husband and I stretched a trip to Ohio up into the bottom, right, and middle of the state but that was insufficient. So, I look forward to learning more from you.

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  7. Most often mine start with a joke, a pun; something I find hilariously ironic. Second to that would be a character that I build around.

    Rarest for me is the lightning strike, though I must admit when I partake on either cannabis or alcohol it does happen more frequently.

    That or I’m just in serious denial. I’d elaborate but I’m late for my AA meeting.

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  8. So, the topic is inspiration. The problem is sometimes that’s in short supply. More than once, I’ve opened up Word, and sat there looking at a blank page, and going, “Now what”?

    But I’ve found it’s a little bit like running a marathon. The hardest part about running isn’t the hills, it isn’t pushing yourself. The hardest part about running a marathon is the first few steps. you’re looking at doing something, that even if you’ve done several dozen marathons, the mind recoils at the idea. You just start. You put one foot in front of the other and before too long your twelve miles in, you’re in the groove of the race, and you’ve reached a point where you’re thinking, “Well, that wasn’t so bad”.

    What I really like is when my characters start driving the story. I might have an idea where I want to go, but it’s their actions and choices that get me from word one to word ten thousand. I especially like it when those fallacies and strengths start spreading their shadow over several chapters. It makes the job a lot easier.

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  9. Ed, I SO appreciate you sharing many beautiful photos of nice places since I have been battling ‘Agoraphobia’ for almost two years and so I don’t get out much these days 😦
    My husband was born in MI.

    And? I love to write listening to the rain fall. It can be rainy and 30 degrees and I still keep my door cracked open while I write to hear the rain. LOL. Hope you don’t mind, but I am reblogging this post on my book and readers blog 🙂 xo

    Catherine Lyon

    Liked by 1 person

  10. Good post buddy, for me it’s always been some event or something I read or something I hear someone speak. My imagination starts from that point. It tries to put a story forward with that as a starting point.

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    1. Someone once asked Gary Larsen where he got his ideas for the Farside cartoons. They would almost right away look at him and also ask, “why do you get those ideas?”

      I have to echo his sentiments. “I don’t know”.

      I do know a lot of what I write has one foot firmly in reality. After all, in my series, a lot of those events are cases I worked on. And then the imagination steps in and takes it a whole other direction. I take the case and play with what happened. An example. in one of my chapters I have a guy, who in the middle of a saloon full of people and in the middle of a dance, stood up and shot and killed his girl friend (no lack of witnesses on that one). That much actually happened.

      Now for the fiction piece of it. I moved the place it happened by about 26 miles, changed it from middle of summer to Christmas Eve, and then added in where my central character and team corner him, and go in after him. That part never happened.

      What did happen was the Tribal Police caught him as he was trying to flee onto one of the Native American reservations. Apparently he thought he’d be safe from us there (he was right to a point. Out jurisdiction did end at their fence line. He was wrong in thinking they’d hide him or that the reservation was any kind of refuge. When they finished with him, he was very glad to see us.).

      Or I see a story on the news, and bang, I’ve a new idea for a new novel.

      So I steal from reality and forge it into a story.

      Liked by 2 people

  11. I’m with you. I like working on the characters. Without someone to walk through the story, you end up in the situation of if a tree falls in the woods, and no one was there to hear it fall, did it make any sound.

    so, I’m with you. No characters (or worse – flat characters), no story. The story is, after all, how the character reacts to the events.


  12. I’ve always wanted to spend a winter in the Upper Peninsula just writing. Snow, solitude, the natural beauty of the region. I think it would be a treasure chest of inspiration….and snow. 🙂


  13. I read literature set within places I travel and explore. Upper Michigan and a circuit around the Great Lakes is on my list. One of your books sounds like it would be perfect! I look forward to the place where writing meets reader.


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