J.R.R. Tolkien was grading a stack of college exam papers one summer day when he came upon a blank piece of paper tucked among them. He wrote on it the first thing to pop into his head: “In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit.”
Over the next 20 or so years of his life, Tolkien wrote The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings, drawing inspiration from his native English countryside and family trips to places like the Swiss Alps.
The idea for the antagonist Smaug most likely came from the dragon in the ancient English poem Beowulf. Meanwhile, the dwarves that inhabit Middle-earth are similar to the ones from Grimm’s Fairy Tales.
It’s also been said that the language used in each of Tolkien’s stories was inspired by Old Norse sagas from Iceland. And the idea for the iconic ring came to him during a visit to an archaeological dig.
And I’ve heard Sméagol was inspired by a chin wag with some gobby bloke at a chippy who was clearly off his trolley serving fish with no taters, precious.
Okay, I made that last one up. But it seems plausible.
The others are true, however, which goes to show you the myriad ways in which a writer can be inspired.
So today let’s look at 13 surprising sources of inspiration for writing, no matter whether you’re writing an essay or a work of fiction like Tolkien’s.
1. Films and Theater
Just as Tolkien was inspired by other sources when creating his stories, you can find inspiration in films and plays when writing a story or an essay.
Art is imitation of real life. There are many films and plays based on real experiences or historical figures.
While watching, you may find yourself interested in learning more about the time period, historical events, or people depicted on the screen or stage.
And nothing fuels a strong essay or story like curiosity.
While films are fictional representations, documentaries are nonfictional. Where a film might inspire you to do research on a subject, a documentary provides factual information on the subject up front.
If the subject matter of a documentary is of interest to you, then you already have one source at your disposal before the research even begins in earnest.
Podcasts are often similar to documentaries but in audio form. It blows me away just how many podcasts there are out there on every subject imaginable: science, history, politics, and plenty of weirder fare.
A personal favorite is This American Life. There are so many amazingly interesting stories on various subjects explained through a more personal lens.
I’ve used it as a source of inspiration for writing for years, and I encourage you to do the same.
As they say, real life is stranger than fiction. There are generations of compelling stories in our past, and then some.
Check out the History Channel, go to a museum, or even pick up an encyclopedia and turn to a random page. There’s no telling what you will find.
For an even more interesting perspective, look for personal history. Talk to your grandparents, go to a yard sale and read people’s old letters, or grab a free trial at a genealogy website and take a look around.
5. News, Politics, and Current Events
History is made every day. A surprising source of inspiration can be the news and politics of today. Things that are unprecedented and controversial happen almost on a daily basis, it seems.
By staying in touch with current events, you may find the thread of a story or essay about the connection between today and the past, and what it means for the future.
6. Science and Technology News
Not only is it interesting to learn and write about where we have been, but it’s just as interesting (and more so if you ask me) to explore where we’re going.
The rate of scientific and technological advancement in this day and age is hard to believe. There are stories every day about things seemingly pulled from a science-fiction novel.
These stories and advancements can be great fodder for a piece of fiction or inspiration for an essay on our historical and future progression.
One of the best ways to get inspiration for a story or essay is to read other works of the same type. For example, if you want to write a good short story, you should probably read a lot of short stories first.
This will not only help you to learn how to write a story properly but also can inspire you to explore your own ideas.
The same goes for academic papers. If you want to write a strong essay, then you should probably read some essays. This seems like common sense, but students are rarely given the opportunity to read examples of the works they are supposed to produce.
However, Kibin has its own Essay Database that you can check out to learn how to write a great essay and get some inspiration for writing.
8. Nature and Meditation
Nowadays, we’re bombarded with sights, sounds, and screens. It’s even easy to go an entire day without being silent at all! It’s hard to know what effect this has on our brains and bodies.
However, I think it’s safe to say that a little silence, whether it’s in the park or in your bedroom, can go a long way toward clearing your head. There are numerous ideas already swimming in your brain. Sometimes, you just need a quiet place to hear them.
One way that these ideas swim to the surface is through our dreams. There are numerous writers who have found inspiration in their dreams. Stephen King comes to mind. Can you imagine that guy’s dreams?
Dreams can help us not only come up with new ideas but also break out of our writer’s block. However, our nighttime thoughts can be fleeting, so try keeping a dream journal next to your bed so that you can jot down anything that comes to mind.
Seeing and doing the same things day after day can be rough on your creative spirit. Breaking out of your bubble and seeing something new and different can inspire you in ways that you never imagined.
And this doesn’t mean you have to go to the airport and buy a ticket on the next flight in some dramatic gesture. Sometimes a day trip to the state park an hour down the road will be enough to provide some inspiration for writing.
11. Community Involvement
Just as traveling and seeing something different can inspire you, so can meeting new people and getting to know them. Volunteering in your community is a great way to meet people you may not have another opportunity to meet.
Moreover, doing so broadens your horizons, allowing you to be a bit more open to the world and its inspiration.
12. Social Media
While social media can be a distraction from your writing—or worse, a detriment to your mental health—it can also provide inspiration for your writing if used the right way.
Social media can be a gateway into the lives of people from different communities, states, and countries. It can teach us about cultures that would otherwise be out of our reach. It can even inspire a good thesis statement.
Just use it sparingly, and be careful to avoid the nasty stuff.
13. Interviews With Writers and Artists
You can learn a lot about writing by reading, listening (see source #2), or watching interviews with established writers. These are people who have spent years coming up with a process that works well for them.
If you feel stuck on your essay or story, try learning from the masters. They might just inspire you.
Bonus Source of Inspiration for Writing
And of course, don’t forget that Kibin has a cadre of professional writers and editors who would love to read your essay and provide feedback.
And who knows? They might just inspire you.