How Does the Muse Strike You?


If you’re a writer of fiction, and you’ve gone as far as to put a couple of the stories you’ve written out in the public realm, it won’t be long before you’re faced with an awkward question. Someone is going to ask – where did this story come from?

People want to know why we wrote a particular story, where we got the idea. If you’re anything like me, when this inevitable question pops up, you’ll stand there with a blank look on your face while you’re mind races for an answer. It isn’t grade school anymore, and you won’t get away with saying, “I don’t know, I just thought it up.” Though there is certainly truth in that.

Lately, I’ve had two ideas for future novels. I know . . . two ideas! That doesn’t seem fair, does it? But lucky for us writers, the number of ideas out there is endless.

The first idea came about when I read a name somewhere – Renard. It stuck in my mind. I rolled it over my tongue again and again as I did my daily walk, and before I knew it, a second name came along. Renard Charbanneau. To be named is to become real. I could see this man, and I had a glimpse of his life.

I had been tossing around the idea of a novel set at a university. Renard found his way into that setting before the end of my walk. A few hours later I had a number of characters and the outline of a major conflict.

The second idea was two strands that came together in a flash. We had been invited out to dinner last week. Our host kindly offered to take us on a boat ride down to the end of the lake. I’m not a fan of boating and to be honest it isn’t boats as much as boat operators that make me nervous. But our host was a man who could be trusted behind the wheel of any moving vehicle.

We zipped around the small islands and coves and played lookie-lou as we came upon a dozen or so cabins tucked in here and there, some long deserted. We also stopped to stare in amazement at a couple of slides that have come down the mountain in recent years.

The next day I happened to listen to a podcast about survivor’s guilt on CBC radio. Something clicked. All of a sudden I had a setting, a background experience the main character was running away from, and a dramatic event.

I end up at the keyboard when the muse shows up the way it did for these two ideas. A few quick notes are usually all it takes. I don’t know about you, but I feel a lot better when I have a few story ideas hanging around. There is nothing like running out of “the juice”, as our old friend Ernest Hemingway used to say, to strike fear into a writer’s heart and soul.

The kind of experiences I’ve described above used to happen to me all the time. I’ve always played around with the juxtaposition of ideas. The only difference now is that I have wholly embraced the wild and crazy reality of being a writer, so I take note.


I’m big on garden walks and lake views when it comes to inspiration. Where do your story ideas come from? How do you play around with what the muse offers?