"Amateurs sit and wait for inspiration. The rest of us just get up and go to work." --Stephen King
Much as I agree with Mr. King, I don't think any of us are opposed to those sudden moments of inspiration. We just don't rely on them, or expect them, which makes them so much greater when they happen.
I've talked about one of my (steadily-growing pile of) plots in progress here before. It's about cold places and undead and people with draconic ancestry and it's meant to read like the whole thing has a heavy metal soundtrack. It's also one of the more frustrating things I've tried to develop over the past few years because no matter what I do with it, it's never quite right.
As an aside, I have to say that this is one of the times when I'm glad to be a plotter, not a pantser. Yes, it's frustrating to have a plotting document that's fifty-six pages long and contains five different versions of my attempts to get this story and world to work. But I'd rather have that than yet another book that I tossed away once it was done. I've been there too many times already. >_<
Anyway. Despite the frustration, I'm determined to keep plugging away at this plot, as I like the ideas in it too much to just set it aside. I go back to it a few times a month, read over my notes on the latest version of the story, and see if I can figure out a little more of it. Most of the time, I add a sentence or two, or maybe delete one, and close the document while swearing.
Then, a little while ago, I saw this image, and everything fell into place.
A big part of the problem I had with the story was that it ended with the protagonists discovering the true nature of the threat, which the antagonist had been working against in his own less-than-kind way. Something about that never felt right. Seeing that image made me realize what I was missing: the story doesn't end with the protagonists discovering the true threat. The story ends with their first battle against that true threat.
The fact that I've been thinking of this story as 'metal fantasy' and the image references rock festivals going to war is not lost on me. :P
This, I think, is what inspiration is really meant to be for we writers. It's not getting the whole story at once, it's not the sudden breakthrough that solves everything. It's the moment when you realize what the story needs for it to work - what the story is missing. It's probably best not to expect inspiration, but it can come from anywhere. Hell, mine came from a message board thread about D&D Demotivational posters.
I still have a lot to do for this tale. But I have the three acts mapped out, which counts for a lot; now that I know how it starts and how it ends, I can figure out everything that happens in between. And for a plotter like me, that means a lot.
And now, once I'm done plotting the sequel that I blathered on about in my last two entries, I can get started on this plot. Again. Maybe this time, it will actually work.