Inspiration for Writing

Neal cropped

This picture of my brother, Neal, was taken at the U.S. Open Golf Tournament in Pinehurst, North Carolina, in June of 1999, one month before he died of an accidental drug overdose. He was only 37 at the time.

My brother touched the lives of many with his wonderful sense of humor, his infectious laugh, and his huge-hearted kindness. But those of us who knew him well understood his dark side, his tortured soul. Fortunately, death has a way of helping us forget the bad and celebrate the good.

Born two years and one day apart—June 14 and 15 of 1962 and 1964—Neal and I were Geminis. We were twins. Kindred spirits. We understood one another. When we were young, he was my hero. After his death, he became my inspiration. From the moment I learned of Neal’s death, I knew I would spend my life making sure that his memory lived on. He would want me to reach out to others, to help them avoid the demons that cost him his life.

For many years, I chaired education committees at my son’s school to promote alcohol and drug awareness to parents. I also chaired a series of leadership symposia that brought in world-renowned speakers to empower students to become better leaders through honor and integrity and character. But it wasn’t enough. I envisioned myself counseling groups of students about the dangers of alcohol and drug use. I wanted to tell anyone willing to listen how substance abuse and mental illness destroys families. But even years after his death, when I tried to talk to others about Neal, my voice would shake and my eyes would fill with tears.

So I turned to writing.

Saving Ben is the story about the strong bond between a college-aged brother and his younger sister. When I started working on my plot lines, I gave little thought to who my target audience might be. I only knew it made sense for me to tell my story from the perspective of this age group, as college was the part of our lives when Neal and I were the closest. It was also during this time when his substance abuse started to become a real issue.

Cherish your time on earth! That’s the greatest lesson I learn from Neal’s death. Live every day to the fullest because you never know what waits around the next corner. Set your goals and make them happen. Today!!



With the most words to date, the winner of this week’s Weigh-In,

a copy of Anne Lamott’s bird by bird is

Sue McGarvie

Sue is only slightly ahead of everyone else.

This competition could get interesting. 🙂

Don't forget


If you haven’t already, check out Rochelle Melander’s guest post, Rock the Write-A-Thon, and enter for a chance to win Write-A-Thon!


According to my desktop dictionary: Inspiration is a person or thing that stimulates in his way. The definition doesn’t specify a good way or a bad way, but a person’s own way. In my brother’s case, I’m inspired by all the good deeds he did as much as the hurt he caused others. What about you? What inspires you to write?


10 thoughts on “Inspiration for Writing

  1. My Dad is,and always will be, my inspiration.

    When I was eight, Mum conned Dad into taking me shopping so beautifully that he admitted defeat and took me to a department store that’s still there to this day. There was a display of the first three Harry Potter books, back before they were big. He asked me if I had read them and. when I said no, he bought me all three at once.

    When the last Harry Potter came out, I had long since started buying my own books, but on the morning that it came out I asked Dad to go buy it for me. He grumbled a bit, but it was more for form than anything. He handed it to me at dinner, all wrapped up in a ribbon. I had finished it by 6am. Dad stole it from my room when he got back from his morning run at 6.30am.

    Dad and I have a long-standing tradition of stealing each other’s books. We’ve both got such similar tastes, probably because we steal each other’s books. My introduction to many of my favourite authors has been through stealing one of their books away from Dad before he could finish it. He took me to my first book signing, and the author was stunned that an eleven year old girl was reading hard thrillers but Dad was grinning and acting like a goof.

    When I first began wondering how stories were put together, Dad told me that trying to work it out would only ever lead to more questions. He was right. It wasn’t a bad thing. Although he was always so behind studying and always checking my brother and I hadn’t been slacking off, he never minded if I spent days at a time writing so long as I got all my work done on time.

    He and Mum funded my reading habit, and that is the greatest show of love they could ever give.

    The only goal I will ever have for my writing career is to write a book under a pseudonym that my Dad will stumble upon at random, read and enjoy without ever knowing it was me who wrote it.

    • And wouldn’t that be just so cool. To have your father totally engrossed in a novel you wrote without knowing it. Somehow, I have a feeling you just might accomplish this! Thanks for sharing your wonderful inspiration story.

  2. Good morning, Ashley. Life does work in mysterious ways. Strange I should ask you yesterday who “Neal” was in your dedication. Of course, your brother. I had no idea, but now your dedication – both to your life’s work and to your book – make sense to me now. Thank you for this revealing post. Love, Ellen

  3. Wow, Ashley. Saving Ben is an amazing vehicle for remembering Neal and opening up a broader discussion. Both his real life story and your book can be a greater starting point for conversations with our college age kids. Thank you so much for sharing your love and pain.

  4. I believe Neal to be a grand inspiration for you. And Emilie Hardy, looks like your dad is a huge muse in your case. For me, my grandmother, she raised me since my mom had to work long days to support us. She taught me to read when I was four years old and had me reading all kinds of books she could find. Since her english was very poor, she taught me in spanish. I read many books with her and when she was ready to pass away, for years ago, being 102 years old, she asked me to read to her, Little Women was the book of choice. She smiled and fell asleep while I read to her, a couple of hours later she just stopped breathing in her sleep and left us, but not alone. At least, she left me thousands of new friends I’d made in books, tons of places to visit and adventures to have, and she left me with a love for reading and writing. She was the strongest person I ever knew, she went through a very hard life since very young and never, ever gave up, never stopped smiling even through the hardest of times. She always had a kind word and lots of encouragement. And she could cook like the angels.
    So, whenever I need to feel I can do something, I think of her, whenever something feels too difficult, I try to be like her and not give up. One day, I want to write the story of all the hardships she went through and how she struggled and kept going, but not yet.

  5. My grandfather was my best friend growing up, and while his passing has inspired me in many, many ways, I’m not sure writing is one of those ways. I’m not sure why. I suppose he has in some way, since he would tell me ghost story after ghost story when I was young and now I write horror. (Seriously, he’d finish telling one and I’d beg for another. He didn’t skip a beat.) Really, for me, my own happiness inspires me most. When I think about my ultimate “dream job,” I think about holing up in a cabin in the woods and writing novels for a living. So, in order to make that dream come true, I have to write.

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