The answer is different for everyone. I always start with something basic I want to convey, such as a single idea, scene or emotion. Impulsive writing/drawing is great for practice and finding inspiration, but you should never use them without revision. You have to plan your projects out, or else you’re more likely to hate it as soon as you’ve finished. I know this from experience. I keep notebooks and Word files to capture fleeting story ideas or inspirations. I always have one with me no matter where I am so I never forget an idea. It doesn’t matter how silly or cliché your idea might be, just jot it down. You can always come back to it later.
If you’re looking for an idea, look at things you like. Watch your favorite movies, read the books you’ve read a million times, look at art you like. Analyze what makes you like them so much, and think about how you can incorporate those elements into a future project. Don’t limit your search by the specifics you want for your project. You want to know where my first idea for K’tharis came from? The Little Mermaid. While watching this most favorite movie of mine, since early childhood, I wondered what it would be like as a sci-fi movie, and I proceeded to re-imagine it scene by scene. No creativity or anything, just simple translation from one era/genre into another. It wasn’t original in the slightest, but I still wrote it down. Three years later and countless revisions later, I’m developing an entire alien culture for a graphic novel that has almost nothing in common with its original inspiration.
Books & Websites for Inspiration
Whatever stage you’re in regarding the creative process, sooner or later you will hit a wall. Whenever I struggle to find inspiration, I hop on the net and wind up wasting HOURS collecting pretty pictures. But when I finally resurface I feel revitalized and have a whole new collection of references. “Art Of” books are also a great resource. Studying the art of other people’s projects you like can help you find your own style and inspiration. Here are a few of my favorites:
You can find almost anything on Pinterest, especially historical costumes and photos that are exceptional as reliable references for a specific time period. Futurism and science fiction are a little more difficult to find. You can browse out my pins HERE.
If you know a movie or video game that inspires you, see if it has an art book. Many have “Art Of” books in which they show you the artistic (and sometimes writing) process of creating the movie/game, or illustration books that are a collection of amazing art done by other artists.
Music for Inspiration
Music can be a HUGE asset in finding inspiration. Again, go through some of your favorite songs and consider how they influence you. Is there a story being told, a thought or emotion that expresses what you want to convey in your story or character? Make a collection of songs that speak to you, even if they’re not relevant to your current idea or project. You can always draw on them for inspiration later.
At a certain point lyrics will actually distract me from the thoughts I’m trying to develop, so I’ll switch over to instrumental music and soundtracks with the same feel I’m going for in my work. Sometimes I just put a soundtrack album (such as TRON Legacy, Skyrim, Mass Effect, or any album from Two Steps From Hell) on repeat and listen to it for an entire week.
Sometimes you need the lyrics in a song to give you possibilities, but other times those words can be too forceful or distracting. Instrumental music can give you all of the mood or emotion you’re looking for while still allowing for your own interpretation.
If you listen to no other instrumental music for all of time, check out the song “Lux Aeterna” (aka Requiem for a Dream) and these modern groups: Trans-Siberian Orchestra (specifically the Night Castle and Beethoven’s Last Night albums), Piano Guys (they do instrumental covers of popular songs) and Two Steps From Hell.
Feedback for Inspiration
And finally, just TALK to people. Ask for their input. It’s hard for some people (like myself) to reach out to others, but some of the best developments I’ve made in my stories were inspired by the suggestions of others. If you don’t like talking, that’s okay! Letters, email and private messages work just as well. Just tell someone you trust what you’re thinking and get feedback. Your idea doesn’t have to be perfect or finished. In fact, it’s better if it isn’t; you’ll be less attached to the work you’ve already done and willing to make changes. Just be open-minded and listen to what they have to say. Maybe you’ll inspire them and they’ll suggest something you hadn’t thought of, or maybe they’ll give you some feedback and/or constructive criticism.
Oh, and if you can, keep a record of the conversation so you can go back to it later. Good advice doesn’t always click right away. Even if you get bad advice or someone doesn’t like your work, learning to deal with that is an essential part of being a creative professional.