I get asked this all the time. In every Q&A session. In emails from readers. Sometimes people bang on my bedroom window as I'm trying to sleep, slamming their fists onto the glass like brain-hungry zombies, droning, "INSPIRAAAATIONNNN..."
Well, here's my professional author tip: you can't just pick up inspiration in bulk from your local Costco. (Second professional tip: zombie juices are impossible to clean, even with Windex.) You can't schedule inspiration into your calendar--at least, I can't. I can't sit down at my computer with a blank screen and force myself to pluck an idea out of thin air. It just doesn't work that way.
Want to know how I came up with the idea for the CROAK series, about a bunch of teenage grim reapers? People like to think that I spent all my free time moping around cemeteries and/or interning at a morgue and/or dragging a dead body around with me everywhere, Weekend-At-Bernie's style. But no. The idea for Croak didn't arise from any sort of preoccupation with death. It came from a particularly boring day at my job at a bread store.
Bread! The most un-death like food of all! But we had no customers, nothing to do, and the girl I was working with wasn't a stellar conversationalist. So I did what I always do when I'm bored: a crossword puzzle. And then it happened, just like that. The idea of a grim reaper teaching his teenage niece the family business--it all just popped into my head while I was thinking of a seven-letter world for something that probably had nothing to do with death at all.
That, more than anything, seems to be the consistent theme in how I get inspired: nothingness. Let me tell you when my best ideas came to me and what I was doing when they came: driving a car down a desolate highway. Riding a subway and staring at the ads. Aimlessly wandering around a bookstore and catching a single word out of the corner of my eye. See, your brain is like flypaper--most of the time it's just flapping around in the breeze, being all gross and unpleasant to look at, but every once in a while it'll catch something, with almost no effort from you at all.
Of course, books don't just jump, fully-formed, into your head. There's a lot (a lot, A LOT) of work you have to do after that initial spark. But here's a good litmus test to see whether it's a good spark or a bad spark: wait. Don't write anything immediately after the idea comes to you (or write the gist of the idea down, but no more than that). Now go do something else.
Can you not stop thinking about it? Have the possibilities overwhelmed you, like the always-daunting Cheesecake Factory menu? How long does it take for you to give in, run up to your computer, and dive in to chapter one? If it's less than twenty-four hours, you may have something there. If it's less than two, then you've definitely got something there. The minute I got home from the bread store, I started writing CROAK. The minute I got home from that long car ride, and that subway ride, I started writing. I had it: the itch. And the advice is same, whether for writing or for measles: if you have an itch, you really need to do something about it.
So if you want inspiration to strike, my advice is this: do nothing. Let your mind wander. You can keep your hands busy--knit a scarf, chop some onions--but allow your brain to think about whatever it wants. Or, if the thought of doing nothing scares you--or the thought of chopping onions without concentrating scares you--read a good book. Better yet, read a bad book. You'd be surprised how much motivation can come from reading a piece of crap and thinking, "Well, there are a couple of interesting ideas here, but you know what would be even more interesting?"
And just like that, your book about zombie-juice cleaning products is born.
About the Author
Gina Damico grew up under four feet of snow in Syracuse, New York. She received a degree in theater and sociology from Boston College, where she was active with the Committee for Creative Enactments, a murder mystery improv comedy troupe, which may or may not have sparked an interest in wildly improbable bloodshed. She has since worked as a tour guide, transcriptionist, theater house manager, scenic artist, movie extra, office troll, retail monkey, yarn hawker and breadmonger. Croak was her first novel, Scorch is her second, and the third and final book in the trilogy will be out in Fall 2013. She lives in Boston with her husband, two cats, one dog, and a closet full of black hoodies.
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About the Book
Sixteen-year-old Lex Bartleby is a teenage grim reaper with the bizarre ability to Damn souls. That makes her pretty scary, even to fellow Grims. But now Lex is a pariah in Croak, the little town she calls home. To escape the townspeople’s wrath, she and her friends embark on a wild road trip to DeMyse. Though this sparkling desert oasis is full of luxuries and amusements, it feels like a prison to Lex. Her best chance at escape would be to stop all the senseless violence that she caused—but how can she do that from DeMyse, where the Grims seem mysteriously oblivious to the bloodshed?
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