As Lit students, we study writers to learn better the mechanics of writing. To learn how it all works and, hopefully, that learning translates to better writing. But we can't study other writers to figure out WHAT to write.
If I tell my students: Write a story. The first response is 'Uhhhh....'
We need lives--outside of the classroom, outside of our own heads, even outside of our immediate surroundings (because it's by going away that we can come back and see our homes in a new light...)--to have the materials to turn into a story. And the most vital ingredient?
Two words: Intellectual Curiosity.
Art. Architecture. Legends and Myths. History. Science. Archaeology. Anthropology. Woodworking. Sewing. Dancing. Music. Travel. Hell, even underwater basketweaving will spark ideas in our heads and lead to new stories and poems. Go outside. Go for a walk. Look up (physically--there are some amazing things to see on the tops of buildings that you pass every day). Look up the back story on your favourite painting or building or lake or historic person (take advantage of that most amazing search engine on the planet to find out why that artist painted that scene, and what was going on in her life when she did it).
My inspirations? An old blue BALL jar. The story of Thomas Fairchild's creation of his 'mule'. Shiny laminated coffee shop menus. Edmund Spenser's Faerie Queen. An old biscuit tin from the 1930s. The life of the elder John Tradescant. Julia Margaret Cameron's photography. The sinuous lines of William Morris's fabric. The fact that green wallpaper in the late Victorian era was highly poisonous.
The list goes on. It has to. Or you end up losing interest in your own writing, the story never gets started, and you're left sitting saying 'Uhhhh....'
News: Kickstarter for Athena's Daughters Vol. 2 gets underway on 16 December.
The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins
Irregularity (An anthology I'm in), ed. Jared Shurin
The Enclosed Garden: History and Development of the Hortus Conclusus and its Reintroduction into the Present-day Urban Landscape by Rob Aben and Saskia de Wit
We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves by Karen Joy Fowler
The Ladies of Grace Adieu by Susanna Clarke (damn I wish I'd written several of those stories!)