Thirty in Thirty Day 19   The Origin of Ideas



Yesterday’s post about my Wild Child’s coup for control of the Thirty in Thirty challenge led me to today’s post. Wild Child declared that she did not want to use prompts from someone else because she had her own ideas. So that leads to a question I often see on social media or hear from friends and acquaintances: “Where do you get your ideas?”


I must confess that I am always a bit nonplussed when asked that question. My initial response, influenced by Wild Child, and therefore not to be uttered aloud, is “You’re kidding, right? I have to tell my ideas to get in line and take a number.” This is a snarky answer, but actually close to the mark. I have so many ideas jumping around in my head that I have difficulty deciding which to choose. Currently I have three different major projects going, so I am constantly having to choose which one gets my time and attention from day-to-day.


Miss Rule Follower, Wild Child’s polar opposite, is more helpful with her response. I will take my cue from her. The short answer is I get my ideas from everywhere, because I think like a writer. The key is to be constantly open to the ideas coming at you all day long. I expect ideas and they show up, often pushing and shoving to get to the head of the queue.


Here is a list of ways to keep the ideas flowing:


  1. Carry a notebook with you everywhere . You never know when a great idea will show up and you need to capture it before it flits away. My policy is that any purse I carry must be large enough to carry a notebook to write in and a book to read.

  1. Read, read, read. Read widely; read everything. I get great ideas from newspaper articles, magazines, essays, poetry, fiction of all kinds, and non-fiction. I make a habit of reading 1 poem, 1 essay and 1 short story every day, just to fill my creative reservoir with great language and story structure. I also have at least one book of fiction and one of non-fiction that I am reading at all times. I never go anywhere without a book to read. I am always a bit surprised when aspiring writers say that they don’t read. That’s  like an aspiring chef saying they don’t like to eat.

  1. When you read, keep your notebook handy. Write down words or phrases that resonate with you. Save them for later to use as “story sparks” aka prompts. Write down questions you have about what you read as well.


  1. Wonder a lot. Ask questions about things you read, things you watch or hear. Write down your wonderings. Ask yourself “What if?, “Why?” “How?” Then write to find your answers. Use your notebook.

  1. Wander a lot. Get out in the world. Go to unfamiliar places. Pay attention to what you see, hear, and notice. Think about how you would describe that sunset, that view, that experience. Again, use your notebook. Let your mind wander as well. Silence and put away your phone, take out those ear buds, and look away from your TV or computer. Ideas come from authentic experiences and noticing things.

  1. Mine your life. Your family and personal stories are the seeds of great tales that only you can tell. Those crazy relatives and embarrassing moments from childhood are a treasure trove. Use them!


  1. Pay attention to what you pay attention to. Explore your unique interests, hobbies, and areas of expertise. Share your enthusiasm and knowledge. If you are interested in something chances are someone else is too.


  1. Use artwork or photographs to stimulate ideas. Discover the story behind the images or make one up.


  1. Learn something new and keep a record of your successes and your failures.


  1. Keep an eye on current events, news, and politics. Record your opinions and frustrations. Have solutions? Write them down. The world needs your great ideas.


  1. Eavesdrop on conversations at coffee shops, the grocery store, or any other place where people gather. There are wonderful nuggets of stories hidden in the encounters of our fellow human beings. Plus it makes for a useful lesson in dialogue.


  1. Pay attention to people as you shop, sit in traffic, or wait in line. Make up stories about them as you observe their appearance, mannerisms, and actions. Not only is this great practice for writing description, it is entertaining as well.


In summary, a writer must be a keen observer and student of the world. Or as Wild Child would say, “Pay attention!”