Lately, I've been thinking about inspiration -- not in the start your day right, devotional kind of way (though I could certainly benefit from that sort of thing), but more along the lines of writing, and the genesis of a story. Inspiration and ideas can be from an article, word, photo, sunset or sunrise, or any number of stimuli prompting thought or some sort of activity, creative or otherwise.
These stimuli often lead to an idea or an image I turn over in my mind, and often I believed there was a story there (yes, on occasion it sprouted into a story and everything fell into place perfectly, but not often). Lately, I've realized the stimulus has not sprung a fully formed story from my mind, but only a simple premise--if that.
A premise is not a story. In fact, most of the time I don't even have a premise from these stimuli. The sunrise photo is useful, but I'm not likely to yank a full story from the image. I'm more likely to have a premise emerge from this photo of a tree taken in Luxembourg Gardens -- it's almost Lovecraftian, or some sort of petrified sea creature trapped on land, waiting to be awakened when the seas rise or something. You get the idea...still not a story.
What I'm experiencing most often is a detail, and I'm reminded of an exchange from Woody Allen's, Midnight In Paris, where Owen Wilson's character, Gil talks about Brasserie Lipp (a wonderful place in Paris to soak up what it must have been like in the 1920s). I'm paraphrasing here, but Gil states he once had a professor who saw James Joyce at Brasserie Lipp eating frankfurters and sauerkraut. His girlfriend and her friends look at Gil expectantly, waiting for more. His girlfriend, Inez says, "That's it? That's the entire story?" Gil responds that what he related isn't a story, but more of a detail.
This is exactly my point. Details like Joyce eating frankfurters and sauerkraut are the spices that will make a story come alive and provide insight into what a character (Gil) thinks, and also shows where his interests lie. I could write an entire post on Midnight In Paris and nostalgia and "Golden Age Thinking" (and I probably will, since I'm in love with a bygone era).
Details are not story, but they certainly pull a moviegoer or a reader deep into a story. If you're a writer and interested in adding more depth to your stories, I highly recommend an online workshop taught by Dean Wesley Smith called--Depth In Writing. He also teaches an online workshop on Character Voice & Setting (another I highly recommend, though I took this one as a weeklong workshop in Oregon when it was offered as such).
Back to ideas. Rather than think every single thing I see is another story, cataloging them is useful. This can be with photos, or jotting down words the image evokes, or simply stuffing it back into my subconscious where I'm hoping it'll emerge when I need it in the middle of writing a story.
Experiencing life is the best fuel for a writer. Not only observing, but participating. Passive observation, or reading and researching can only get you so far when it comes to true details that will make your work come alive. Sensory details come about from living life and building a vast archive to draw upon so the characters in the story I'm writing will have an opinion.
Don't dismiss any experience--the details of the experience will be useful for a character and his/her/its opinion in a story at some point. And this goes beyond writing--you never know when a seemingly unimportant detail will provide inspiration down the road to solve a problem, or help someone out, or even help you in a situation.