Finding Inspiration Anywhere you Can

So I returned to my theatre roots last night when I joined a friend for a talk between Tony Kushner (Angels in America, Homebody/Kabul) and Stephen Sondheim (Like every classic musical ever) at the Public Theater here in New York. It was a great time and it got me thinking alot about influences and how often some of your strongest ones come from areas outside your own artistic practice.

Like for me, even though I'm now writing books for teens, most of my foundational artistic experiences were in theatres. It all started back when my high school did a production of Equus. I had never seen anything like that before. I think I sat there for two solid hours with my jaw hanging open. Next thing you know I was up on the stage myself acting for the first time ever in Arthur Kopit's Indians. Soon I discovered the work of Tennessee Williams and Eugene O'Neill and after that the more contemporary theatre of writers like Jose Rivera, Erik Ehn, Caryl Churchill and Mac Wellman and theatre companies like Pig Iron.

All of this feels relevant even today when my dealings with theater are purely as an audience member. Getting immersed in theatre gave my writing a tendency towards the dramatic (ok, maybe too much of one sometimes) and a love for the interplay of characters and bold language. It also informed my interest in writing about change and transformation.

I figure it's a good idea to look for creative fuel anywhere you can find. Who cares if you write books but draw your inspiration from music or paintings or film? Whatever works, right? And maybe bringing influences in from outside your own genre can help keep your work fresh and distinct.

So I'm curious to hear from you guys, where do you all find artistic inspiration outside of books?  Does a particular painter do it for you? A poet or musician or film director? Something else? How did they change what you do?

Jeff Hirsch
The Eleventh Plague
Coming from Scholastic, Fall 2011

Find me at and @jeff_hirsch


S.A. Larsenッ said...

Ooh, I find inspiration everywhere. Music is a big one, though. It tends to take me out of myself, gives me eyes beyond me. I'm also a former dancer, who now dances just for fun with a group of ladies. That always gets the creative juices flowin'. lol

Unknown said...

Have I mentioned yet how jealous I am that you live in NY?

Matthew MacNish said...

Growing up my pop was the stage manager for the Seattle Opera and my mom was actress, so we practically lived backstage. I even worked as a stagehand in the IATSE for a few years until I realized I wanted a steady career. There is nothing quite so exciting as show business.

Unknown said...

How interesting because my creative roots started in theater too. It was there that I learned the the most about character development and dialogue that helps me immensely in my writing now. It's also where I learned the true value of people watching.

As far as inspiration, I get it from many different sources: people & events around me, music, tv, books, dreams, and sometimes just quiet contemplation.

Carol Riggs said...

Oh yeah! I love it--"creative fuel." Anything that gets me thinking in a certain/new way, which could be music, art, movies, or dance. I think it stretches areas of our right brain, the creativity side, and opens up new realms. Fun!

Mandy P.S. said...

Outside of books I'm going to have to go with people. I can't begin to describe how many times I've watched someone do something (stupid, awesome, or even mediocre) and thought "but what if that person had done this?"

But I've always been inspired by science and the history of science as well. In my education, I've been told a million awesome stories about what scientists and engineers really did. Newton figured out gravity and never thought to mention it to anyone until he overheard some other guys arguing about it. Poisson was a manipulative cheat who pretty much ripped off Bernoulli. Marie Curie was a Polish girl who broke all the odds (way to represent!).

So yeah, pretty much science and people inspire me.

Angie Smibert said...

I'll second Bittersweet's influences: science and people-(watching). Besides books, I'll also throw in history and to some extent, art. Oh, and classic movies...I got a very geeky score in the AFI classic movie thing on FB recently. 85, I think.

Unknown said...

I work in theater as well and I think it really inspires me and influences my writing. It really helps me with dialog and character motivation.
I also like listening to music and people watching.