Where Do You Get Your Ideas?

One of the most frequent questions asked of writers is: Where do you get your ideas? Often writers respond with sarcasms like ‘I pick them up at the store’ or ‘I steal them from other writers.’ I don’t think that is fair.

A writer may have heard the question a million-and-one times, but I have learned that people who don’t write, are truly curious and sometimes in awe of how writers get ideas for novels. No matter who asks the questions, nor why, it deserves an answer.

The answer is:

Where do I get my ideas? Nowhere. Everywhere. No, I’m not trying to be evasive. It’s true. It’s a way of thinking, a way of seeing the world. You may not be a writer, but I’m guessing there is something that you do that is equally awesome.

Examples:

As a child, my son’s curiosity as to how things worked drove me wild. If a toy could be taken apart, you can bet he found a way to do it, down to the last teensy-tiny screw. I would try to reconstruct the toy, but alas, that is NOT my talent. By the time my son was six or seven years old, he put the toy back together himself, in better working order than ever. Soon he began creating something new and different with the parts. He still has that ability today.

I have a friend who can take a basic recipe and add a dash of this and a dab of that. She is able to do this because of the way her brain works, because she has practiced an awareness of foods and what cooking methods produce what results. Her end result will always be something unique and tasty. And no matter how many cooking shows I watch, nor how carefully follow a recipe, my results are not as good.

My husband is an artist. He sees things in an entirely different way than I do. He sees line, color, composition, and things I don’t see or understand. He takes these things he’s observed and presto-chango: he creates a drawing. Ok. It’s not really magic. He has studied and practiced drawing. He expresses his way of thinking in a picture.

A new story idea?

Anytime I hear a song, a phrase, read an article, or observe something interesting my brain automatically tries to make it a story. It takes a bit of this, a bit of that and knits it together in a way that makes me curious, makes me want to explore the idea and characters in words. It typically invents the feeling of the story first, the emotional pull or ending. The layers of character, plot, and setting are discovered as I explore the feeling.

Telling you about those three people above, I’m struck by a feeling that there is a story there: they are a family, each interpreting an important event so differently that they are driven apart. The struggle to understand each other’s point of view might drive such a story.

At this point, the idea is derivative. But working that idea around for a while, I am bound to come up with better conflicts, motivations and character arcs. You see, I’ve studied story structure, how other writers write, and I’ve practiced writing. Thus, when the initial idea or feeling of a story occurs to me, I will massage it, twist it, and test it until it is something I can’t wait to write.

Talent

I believe that everyone has a talent: an interpretation of things observed, read, or felt. Some people have ignored or hidden their talent, some dismiss their talent as useless, others use their talent and create. I’ve discovered my talent: writing stories. What about you? Where do you get your ideas?

What False Comfort Zone Are You In?

“Life Begins at the End of your Comfort Zone” is a post by Tiva Jones, owner of Creativity Loft, a public relations company that specializes in pr, branding and marketing for authors, magazines & publishers. Before you start saying ‘old news, I don’t care,’ you might want think about how your comfort zone may be holding you back.

The biggest safe zone of all . . .
There are all kinds of comfort zones: a neighborhood, a job, a preferred route to drive or walk, a certain group of friends, there is plenty of time to (fill-in-the-blank). The biggest comfort zone of all is “Someday.” Lots of people use “someday” as a safe zone. Someday I’ll write a book. Someday I’ll move to Italy. Someday I’ll forgive xxx for what he/she did.

Even us ‘creative’ types have comfort zones: I’ll query an an agent someday, I’ll submit my story someday, when I learn how to do this one thing . . . .   Yet, someday never seems to come.

Facing Fear
A couple of years ago, I participated in a couple of online writing course: How to Revise Your Novel (HTRYN) and How to Think Sideways (HTTS) by Holly Lisle.* In the HTTS course, Holly refers to something she calls Thinking Barriers: Safe, Perfect, Victim and Feel. I won’t go into detail about these, but learning how to break these thinking barriers is instrumental to Holly’s course. I thought I learned those lessons, perfectly. NOT.

We use barriers, like Holly’s thinking barriers, to protect us from things we fear. Facing the fear is absolutely essential to finding a way past those barriers. Some fears are important to respect in order to maintain physical and emotional safety. Some fears are really big and they cannot be faced head on in one step. Look at the fear, the barrier, you’ve constructed. If that fear keeps you from moving forward, from achieving what you want to do, you need to face that fear. There are small steps you can take. Maybe the first step is to read a how-to book. Maybe it’s to respond to one post. Maybe it’s to go to a party and say hi to one new person. If you really want to move forward, I’m certain you will find a way to take that first small step.

Build on small steps
Between the Holly Lisle Novel Writing School courses and Tiva’s post, I realized I am in the false comfort zone, Perfect. Perfect doesn’t exist. Perfect never finishes. If I wait and I work hard to be PERFECT, I won’t meet you, I will never have a blog, I won’t finish this web site, I won’t finish my book, etc., etc. So — I’m stepping out of my comfort zone.

I read up on how to put together a website. How to publish a blog. And now it’s time. The small steps have led me here. I am putting up this web site and blog. I’m posting this, relatively unpolished post (Give me a break! A girl can’t change in the course of 700 words). Soon, I will have novellas and novels for sale on this web site. Small steps that will take me to my goal: published stories that are read by people like you.

You know what? Tiva is right. There is power in facing your fears. There is power in taking small steps. Live outside of your comfort zone.

Explore.

Dream.

Discover.

Will you face disappointments in twenty years? Is there a false comfort zone that keeps you from achieving your dreams? What small steps can you take to move out of your false comfort zone, toward your dreams?

Disclosure: I am an affiliate of Holly Lisle’s HTTS and HTRYN courses. If you use the buttons on my website, I will get a small cash payment. You do not have to use those buttons. The link in my blog roll to the right will take you directly to the courses listing on her website. Regardless of how you get there, go to Holly’s site. She has many helpful articles and blog posts.