What Inspires Your Writing?

dawn frederick

One of my favorite things when I meet new writers and other creatives, is learning how they found themselves in that place. Usually this will spark an interesting conversation that takes many unexpected turns. And it provides perspective in how that person views the world and how it influences their art. 

I recently finished Hanif Abdurraqib’s GO AHEAD IN THE RAIN: Notes to A Tribe Called Quest. While I enjoyed this book as a whole and all the layers of discussion, one thing that immediately stood out was Hanif’s developmental years, and how they influenced him as a writer. He shares the challenges of growing up, losing his mother, and his love of rap music, while looking back at a group who left their own indelible mark on music. 

In the role of literary agent, I get to see many book ideas, and often I wonder how (or why) each person wrote the book being pitched. For anyone who has pitched me at a conference, while I’m excited to hear the new book idea, I also will ask what inspired it. No one just writes a book, there’s generally a series of catalysts that lead to the final product, going beyond the desire to just “write.” This is a valuable conversation to have, and if the idea feels like a good fit, it will help when the book idea is taken to editors later on. 

As a writer, it’s a valuable discussion to have with potential editors and agents.  It can be shared (be it briefly) in a query letter, more informally for an in-person pitch, and/or formally in a book proposal; providing insight into how this idea grew into a book. Ultimately when any book is sold, the publisher will want to learn more about the author, but even more about why the book was written. This isn’t necessarily a platform discussion, but this knowledge would definitely apply towards one’s platform if presenting a memoir or a general work of nonfiction.

The real-life experiences of any writer will influence the overall storytelling. A commitment to experiencing life outside the book, outside of writing, will make any story feel more tangible, more realistic. Abdurraqib does this seamlessly and the narrative has struck many notes with many readers, including me. I was able to see the world through his eyes, and his book is still on the forefront on mind days later.

You each have a story, your own personal experiences, and an ability to tell them. Whether you’re pitching a new idea, or reaching out to new readers, try to be accessible and share with readers the roots of your idea.

Dawn Michelle Frederick is the owner/literary agent of Red Sofa Literary, established in 2008. She brings a broad knowledge of the book business to the table, bringing multiple years of experience as a bookseller in independent, chain, and specialty stores; sales, marketing, and book development experience; previously a literary agent at Sebastian Literary Agency. She has a B.S. in Human Ecology, and a M.S. in Information Sciences. Dawn co-founded the MN Publishing Tweet Up, is the current President of the Twin Cities Advisory Council for MPR, a member of the BOD for Loft Literary, and a teaching artist at Loft Literary. You can find her on Twitter at @redsofaliterary.