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It is sometimes strange where inspiration might come from. For example, today I got a letter from the tax office. I happened to be musing on that letter (mainly confused thoughts about what the hell they were talking about and what particular confused comments I would make when I rang them to say ‘Eh?’ a lot) when a funeral crawled slowly by. This, of course, made me think of Benjamin Franklin and triggered the following inspiration in me:

Death and Taxes – he’s an accountant working out of an office above a funeral home, she’s a mortuary assistant single mother. Together they fight crime…

I got as far as working out characterisations for the main characters and some concepts of how plot would develop before common sense kicked in and told me it was a stupid idea. Besides, the one that followed it was even better:

Death and Taxis. Starring Danny Devito and Christopher Lee. He’s the manager of a New York cab company, his partner’s the anthropomorphological manifestation of the end of life. Together they fight crime.

I, of course, blame Neil Gaiman entirely for the whole ‘they fight crime’ trope. I still find it hilarious even many years after he used it in the Kindly Ones. This is probably why I am not likely to ever be a writer of sit coms or TV drama.

This incident did make me wonder about inspiration and what can cause it. It is basically what happens when our brains make connections between things which might not normally be connected and derive from them some epiphany – often a clue as to how to progress something that was causing problems. Whether it be a difficult scene in a story or cracking the structure of benzene, as humans we pay attention to external stimuli and if we see something inspiring we often interpret it in light of whatever problem we are currently working on. It’s a symptom of our ability to pay attention to things. Sometimes it is not an obvious inspiration, the universe can be subtle and a number of small stimuli add up to one great idea. Other times it is a blinding flash – a road to Damascus moment. You see the spiral staircase and think about the structure of DNA or dream about Ourobouros and wonder if Benzene might be a ring structure or see a funeral procession and think up a crap TV Sit com concept.

Sometimes I wonder if the key to being a good writer is understanding this process of inspiration and learning how to use it effectively. But then, I am a scientist and my first impulse is always to try to analyse everything…

If you feel like commenting, feel free to share any experiences or thoughts you have had with inspiration…