Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Getting Ideas for Writing

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Any writer, regardless of where they are on their journey towards publication, gets asked this question: how do you get your ideas for writing. It matters not what the writer writes. It matters not if they are school-aged or adult. The question is universal.

For me, my ideas come from life. For example, I recently spent a considerable amount of time in a hospice just before my father-in-law passed. As I sat there in the quiet, watching him breathe, a new story began to take shape.

When this happens I let my mind go with it and everything speeds up in there--ideas form and begin to bounce off of each other. It's wild. I typically don't say anything out loud until I've worked out the major heartbeat of the story - the "why" of it. Once I hit that point I tell my husband my idea, and it's then, when I'm talking about it out loud, that my characters form from the fog. Again, it's wild. Character traits are born, right there on the fly.

My process goes on from there. But that's not the reason for this post. I want to go back to the "getting ideas part" because that's clearly a crucial part of the process.

Life. That's where all ideas for writing come from. Back in 2005 I had the priviledge of being in the audience while James Howe gave a presentation on the craft of writing. One of the many brilliant things I took away from that day was how he carried a small homework pad with him at all times, to capture life as it happened - for future writing.

When I taught middle school I did mini-lessons on how to listen and watch life and get ideas for writing. It was a completely foreign concept to the majority of my students. I'd tell them that if they thought like the writers they were, and opened up their ears, their eyes and their hearts to the world around them, the stories and ideas would find them.

I used to show them some of my ideas that I'd jotted down on post-its and then explain the real life moment that inspired it. Sometimes the post-it'ed note was a snippet of a conversation I'd overheard - something that interested or captivated me in some way. Sometimes the post-it'ed note was my reaction to something I'd seen human beings doing - or something in nature - or something from TV. Whatever ended up on my post-its meant something to me, the writer.

Once I started to look at life with my "writer glasses" on everything shifted over one square, and I realized story ideas were everywhere and in everything.