by Karen Collum

We creative types often talk about that moment when inspiration strikes. We get an idea, a phrase, an image, a scent, a sound that somehow switches something on in our brains and before we know it words are churning out faster than electric shocks on a trampoline. The concept of inspiration ‘striking’, however, is misleading. It sounds so passive, so unpredictable, so out of our control.

I’d like you to think about another sort of strike for a moment; a lightning strike. It’s true, lightning can strike people almost anywhere and at anytime, and we often hear amazing tales of the same person being struck more than once, but there are well-known factors that can increase or decrease the likelihood of being struck by lightning. I believe the same applies to the strike of inspiration. Here are a few ways you can increase the likelihood of being struck by inspiration (but please don’t use this advice in a storm as you are quite likely to get struck by lightning and although that might make a great story, it would in fact be terrible!):

1. Stand tall and in the open

Everyone knows that lightning strikes tall objects and the wisest thing to do in a storm is lie low. The opposite is true when waiting for inspiration to strike. Stand out in the open field of life, arms outstretched and reaching for the sky. Stand tall, lift your gaze above what is immediately in front of you and look around. Don’t be afraid to be different. Look at a picture, a scene, a group of people from a different perspective. Ask ‘what if?’ questions. Dare to look beyond what you first see. For me that often means taking a mental step back from the scene and surveying it as an observer. Why is that person frowning? Why is the lady in the car crying? Where is that person in a hurry to get to? Do this often enough and inspiration will surely strike.

2. Have your umbrella up

Umbrellas in a lightning storm are a no-no, especially if yours has a metal tip on the end, but for a writer, having your umbrella up means you are ready and waiting to be struck by inspiration. You are aware of what’s going on around you and that there may just be one tiny thing that will spark your creativity in amongst the mundane. I try to have my umbrella up all the time, consciously searching for things that might be useful. I listen carefully to the conversations that my children have and try to absorb their pattern of speech. I also have a notebook handy at all times so I can capture the strike when it happens. When I’m outside playing with my kids I watch for interesting things in my environment. Just the other day I saw a slow and steady march of butterflies heading to some important but unknown place, one at a time. Inspiration can strike on even the gentlest of wings.

3. Get on the phone

During a lightning storm it’s advisable to stay off the phone as lightning can travel down the phone line and end up quite painfully in your ear. As a writer, however, it’s essential that you connect and network with other creative people. Have conversations about interesting things, bounce ideas off one another, share with trusted creative friends what you’re working on. I don’t believe inspiration happens in a vacuum and by connecting with one another we can create surges of inspiration for all of us.

Don’t just wait for inspiration to strike. Stand tall, have your umbrella up and get on the phone. You might just find those thirty PiBoIdMo ideas flowing faster than you ever thought possible.

Karen Collum lives in Brisbane, Australia and is a stay-at-home mum to three pre-school boys. She is about to welcome a baby girl to the family in December. She is also a picture book author and co-convenor of the international online picture book chat group, #pblitchat. (You can find details about #pblitchat at http://picturebooksonly.wordpress.com.) Karen’s debut picture book SAMUEL’S KISSES is due for release in late November by New Frontier Publishing. You can follow Karen on Twitter (@KarenCollum) or find more about her and her books on her website http://www.karencollum.com.au.