This weekend, I attended the Rose State Writer’s Conference in Oklahoma City. It’s always full of wonderful workshops, great panels, and fantastic speakers. This year’s capstone speech was given by children’s author Anna Meyers.
In her speech, she said something — and I will screw up the exact quote, sorry — that was very true. She said, “People always ask me where I find my ideas. I tell them I don’t find my ideas; my ideas find me.”
That’s so important, let me make it into a pull quote:
“People always ask me where I find my ideas. I tell them I don’t find my ideas; my ideas find me.”
This is one of the things I find SO frustrating about new writers! Not to go off on a soapbox, but come on! I’ve mentioned before that I frequent the Writer’s Water Cooler. Nearly every week, it seems, there’s someone there asking, “Where do you get your ideas? I have no original ideas. I can’t figure out what I want to write about.”
I need a soapbox icon, don’t I? Here you go:
YOU DON’T DECIDE TO BECOME A WRITER AND THEN BEG FOR IDEAS. YOU HAVE AN IDEA THAT DEMANDS TO BE WRITTEN, AND YOU WRITE IT. THAT’S HOW YOU BECOME A WRITER.
I’m lucky; I don’t think I’ve ever had a shortage of ideas, and most writers don’t. We take inspiration from everything around us. A newspaper article. Something we heard on the radio. A “what if,” gleaned from a conversation. A snippet of dialogue, overheard while out shopping.
A lot of mine come from old photographs.
Take this one, for example. I collect vintage photos — you’d be shocked at how many you can find at antique stores, rummage sales, heck, sometimes even in the trash! — and my mind often works on the question of who these people were, what their lives were like, who they knew and where they went, what they did for a living. Who were these people? How did they get along? Do they seem like a family to you, almost — or is there some subtext going on under the carefully neutral expressions? Is there one that jumps out out at you, who doesn’t seem to quite fit in? Why is that? Who would have a photo done of his household servants? (And before you think this is a modern photo made to look old, it isn’t: this photographer hasn’t been in business for almost 100 years.)
Or, you could try this one. I found this one in a vintage photo album at an antique store this summer. I bought the album just for this one photo, in fact — and I am floored by the mystery that I found within the rest of the pages. (But that’s MY story!)
This is precisely how Ransom Riggs came up with the idea for his bestselling YA novel, Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children. If you haven’t read this book, READ IT. I’m not even remotely kidding. Here’s his website: www.ransomriggs.com
The point is, inspiration is everywhere. As a photographer, I know that; my camera is never far away. The same thing with story ideas. Your mind should always be a radar dish, spinning constantly for that next scrap or spark. I’ve had ideas that came to me while running (Nicky, my rumrunner, whose story I’m finishing for NaNo this year), stories that came to me while riding the school bus, and stories that were inspired by the photos I collect (sometimes not an entire story, but just a character — my beta readers may notice that the dark-haired man in the top photo looks an awful lot like a certain ghost they’ve been reading about lately . . .).
So please, please, please, for the love of all that’s holy and everything that isn’t, go get your own ideas! Hit an antiques store. Hang out at the food court in the mall and jot down every conversation you overhear. Read online sites and magazines you’d normally never read. Open you mind. Accept that your next great idea might come from the least expected place. As Diana Gabaldon is so fond of saying, her initial idea for Outlander came to her while she was watching an old episode of Doctor Who — but then, once she started writing, one of the first things that came out was “I’m Claire Elizabeth Beauchamp. Who the bloody hell are you?” (Here’s a link to one of her interviews: http://www.goodreads.com/interviews/show/953.Diana_Gabaldon)
You have to be open to ideas. A lot of people are so judgmental — I can’t do that! That’s too hard! I know nothing about X or Y; I’d have to do so much research, I’ve never written about this, there’s that adage about ‘write what you know’ and I don’t know a thing about this . . . on and on, ad nauseum. Who are you to judge the ideas that come to you? To brush them away like a flake of ash on your coat sleeve? It bloody came to you. YOU. Go with it!
Once you’re open to receiving new ideas — never mind if they’re good or not, who cares at this point?! — you’ll be shocked at how many come to you. I have at least six other books besides Nicky and my urban fantasy series, just waiting to be written. Does that worry me? Nope. Not a bit. I’ll get there. And so will you. Get a small notebook. Carry it. Or use the voice notes recorder on your cell phone. Every single idea, every single time. Don’t think you’ll remember it; you won’t. Don’t dismiss anything; that idea may not come through, but if you glean one thing from it, it was worth it.
Where do I get my ideas? Where should you? Everywhere. Now go out and find some, darn it. 🙂
Ahem. If you’re still struggling, here are some links to writing prompts you may find helpful: