“How did you come up with that?”

By Katie Holland and Elizabeth Houde

Are you a creative individual? If you are, it’s likely that you’ve heard this question every… single… time you’ve shared your work with anyone.

Are you not a creative individual? Have you asked that question to your creative friends?

Are you a creator or a not-creator who would like to hear how some people get inspired to do creative things? Yes!? Great! Sharing time!

We talked to people–creative people–and they talked back. They were happy to share with us those things that inspire them to write, to sing, to create, and now we will share this great mystery with you based on what we noticed from the replies and what we ourselves tend to draw from, in the hopes that these tips will help you in your future endeavors, or just bring a smile to your face.


1) Images

Many people draw inspiration from images. These images can be anything from a National Geographic photograph to some random graphic floating past on your Facebook feed.

If you’re interested in finding more inspiring images, we recommend browsing sites like DeviantArt, Wikimedia, Tumblr, and TheInspirationGrid. A beautiful image–or even one so hideous it defies explanation–can trigger something in you: a memory, an alternate reality, a feeling, an emotion or sensory, anything to get you going.

Passage 22

Passage 22” by MASYON of DeviantArt.com


2) Life

Now for the real world. So some people find inspiration in *dramatic pause* *whispers* the real world. We were just talking about images, so here’s a good website to look at that has images–of real people, places, animals, etc.–and the stories of the people, places, animals, etc. It’s called Humans of New York, and we’ve found some really inspiring things there.

Amanda Libby told us that when she sits in a coffee shop watching all of the people around her, “story ideas come flooding in by what [she sees] others doing.”

Amanda Eberhardt also had something to say about drawing inspiration from life’s moments, and how she likes to think that everything can be inspiration for writing. She said that “a brilliant story could be found in the face of a man doing card tricks on the New York subway.”

“Having written a story about an old woman who I saw smoking outside Dunkin’ Donuts on a snowy day in my hometown, I can honestly say that anything you see in real life can inspire you to write.” -Elizabeth Houde


In the Playwriting Workshop taught by David Hammond here at Guilford, he encouraged his students to look at the news headlines (both domestic and abroad) for inspiration for their scenes. The idea is that your play (or in your case whatever creative task you are undertaking) is always in your head, just sitting there, waiting to relate to reality. Draw from life, draw from experience, and if you haven’t experienced it yourself read about someone who has.

Fireworks stock

Fireworks Stock 02/07/12-48” by spirit-fire-stock of DeviantArt.com

3) Music

So a lot of people really like music as a source of inspiration, which makes sense, because hey, music, right? People love music. Writers, artists, and musicians, oh my! All of them have found inspiration from the music in their lives.

Basically, a lot of people cited music as their inspiration, a lyric or a theme, the way those words or sounds next to one another just resonate with you on a deeper level. Music is a powerful thing, and letting it take you on a journey can really pay off.


“Songs inspire stories. Usually a lyric and a tone will evoke an image, and then that image turns into a story – sometimes it will stray from what the song is actually about, but I try to keep it the same.”

-Carson Risser


Here are some song suggestions that were offered:

Nellie Vinograd:

1.) Rhapsody in Blue by George Gershwin

2.) der hölle rache kocht in meinem herzen (The Queen of the Night’s 2nd aria) by Mozart

3.) Rock Creek Park by The Blackbyrds


Elizabeth Houde:

1.) Gravedigger by the Dave Matthews Band

2.) Sharpest Lives by My Chemical Romance

3.) Build God, Then We’ll Talk by Panic! At the Disco


If you don’t trust those suggestions, or they just don’t do it for you, you can try Pandora or iTunes radio stations, you might find some new favorites, and maybe a story waiting to be found.


Stormy Sky horizontal

Stormy Sky horizontal” by Lindalees of DeviantArt.com


4) Other Suggestions

Now for the odds and ends of inspiration… not to say that you’re odd. Just… well let’s just say that inspiration comes at different people in different ways. Yeah, that’s what we’ll say. You’re normal. All of you. (THERE IS NOTHING WRONG WITH MEURSAULT) Here we go:


“Sometimes the best way to get something is just to wing it and tap into your subconscious.”

-Tyler Midkiff


“I take a walk in the woods surfing different weather. Sun, cloud, rain, sometimes snow in the winter. Wind is always good.”

-Jadelyn Leroux

Words themselves can sometimes generate entire works, try taking a few (maybe three silly words and one serious–Pineapple, Madonna, Window, and Addiction, for instance) and set out to use all four in a paragraph. See what happens.

Here’s a list of ten words we found beautiful on their own:

  1. Absolute
  2. Pantomime
  3. Tension
  4. Cellophane
  5. Flabbergasted
  6. Distorted
  7. Bauble
  8. Arcane
  9. Slaughter
  10. Absence


Some people find inspiration from other things like…Tumblr. Nellie said that she likes “to see what makes other people laugh even if it doesn’t make [her] laugh,” and she uses it to inspire her to write.


And, hey, sometimes writers use prompts. There’s no shame in it, everybody who takes on a prompt sees it through their own lens, drawing from their own experiences and observations to create something beautiful and only theirs. Greenleaf Review member Chassidy Crump has written an article of Prompts for writers, you should check it out!


Hopefully you now feel like you understand inspiration. If you don’t, we’re sorry. We’ve done our best. You can try our methods. You can try other writers’ methods. You can come up with your own methods. You do you. We’re sure it’s brilliant whether you write or don’t write. (This is life. Go. Enjoy it. Be inspired. Or don’t. The choice is yours. Make the right one.)


Then What?

After you get past finding inspiration and you have a completed piece of writing, artwork, song lyrics, etc. you should think about submitting it to The Greenleaf Review, Guilford College’s Literary Magazine for the opportunity to be published in next year’s issue.


Good luck and happy hunting!

Elizabeth Houde and Katie Holland



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