Monday, April 11, 2016

I is For Ideas

I was talking to my aunt last night, who was writing her obituary (don't ask - but no, she's not dying), and in the course of our conversation she asked me where I got my ideas. Where indeed?

I used to believe that if you had to ask where to get ideas from, then you weren't cut out to be a writer. But then I did a series on different forms of poetry and when it came time to come up with examples for these forms I suddenly found myself sympathizing with anyone who’s ever wanted to write but didn’t know what to write about.

So where do you get an idea? While ideas in general are all around you, they can also be triggered by many different things:

Magazine Photographs:
Sometimes the most unique ideas can be triggered by a picture from a magazine. I have an extensive collection of pictures I’ve cut from magazines – people, places, gardens, dishes – anything that catches my eye.

Write for 10 minutes without stopping. Don't worry about grammar or spelling, just write. If you're using a computer, darken the screen so you can't read what you're writing until you're done. This technique will help you access those creative ideas hiding in your subconscious.

Look at a Book:
Take a book you have nearby and write down the first 10 words you see. Choose words that you don't normally use. Then, freewrite a paragraph or two using the 10 words. It might take a couple of tries, but before you know it you'll feel the urge to keep going.

Newspaper Articles:
Real life is a great starting point for fiction. I once used an article from a newspaper as the basis for a poem, which led to a short story as well. Tabloids are especially good for generating ideas.

Most contests have a specific subject or theme. This gets not only gets you started on an idea, it gives you a deadline to finish your story. Even if you don’t win the contest, you’ll still have a finished story you can try selling elsewhere.

People Watch:
Go to a busy mall or other public place and watch the people as they pass by. Pick out a person, imagine yourself in his shoes and start from there.

My personal favourite is playing "What if". Even a mundane task in your daily life can turn into a story with what if. Say you have to run to the store to pick up some bread – what if you arrive just in time to witness a robbery? What if that bone the dog came home with is from a corpse buried in the woods? What if that weird looking bug is the beginning of a plague of insects?

Ideas are all around you.

You get ideas from daydreaming. You get ideas from being bored. You get ideas all the time. The only difference between writers and other people is we notice when we’re doing it. ~ Neil Gaiman


Wander said...

This is absolutely great! What-ifs are some of my favorite ways to start a story or poem. For this poetry class I'm taking right now, I'm not really sure how I come up with my ideas. I'm a musical person, so I focus on the rhythm of the poem first and then see what ideas come to me.

Anonymous said...

Great tips! Just have to put yourself out there and look around. Ideas are everywhere if you're open to them.