Collecting Ideas

Ideas can come from anywhere. A piece of overheard conversation might make a perfect line of dialogue, or a story in the news can act as a springboard for a plot.

When an idea emerges it may only be a premise, an opening image, a starting point that may need more time before we begin working on it. And so we must remember these ideas to use them or build on them later. How does a writer keep track of them all?

I’ve always been a note-taker. I have notebooks upon notebooks filled with lists and notes. The trouble is keeping track of them all and remembering in which notebook I jotted a particular thought.

The modern version of the notebook is the app Evernote. Unlike my collection of notebooks, which I don’t have on me at all times, I always have my phone with me. I’ve started using this app and have created “Notes” for character names and story ideas.

There are more visual options for keeping ideas, like scrapbooks, collages, bulletin boards or virtual pinboards such as Pinterest. I have boards on Pinterest where I pin photos that inspire my characters and settings.

index-cardsAnne Lamott recommends index cards: “I fold an index card lengthwise in half, stick it in my back pocket along with a pen, and head out, knowing that if I have an idea, or see something lovely or strange or for any reason worth remembering, I will be able to jot down a couple of words to remind me of it.” I’ve used this method too, stashing index cards in my wallet or glove compartment.

I don’t have a singular, organized method for collecting and saving those moments of insight, but I’ll continue to use any method at my disposal to keep those potentially useful ideas from slipping away.

How do you collect your ideas?

Advertisements

Finding Inspiration in Dreams

This morning I awoke from a night of unusual dreams – the kind of dreams that, upon waking, can’t really be described or explained.

These dreams were not chronological or rational. There weren’t realistic transitions – I was in one place doing one thing, then suddenly, magically I am in another place altogether and yet in my dream world it makes sense.

I awoke feeling inspired.

It’s like these dreams blossomed from the creative part of my brain and my writerly instincts are kicking in.

The first stories I ever wrote were similar to these kinds of dreams – they were adventure stories about new places that needed to be explored and getting lost at sea or deserted on a magical island. I was a kid when I wrote these stories.

I enjoy reading stories about made up worlds that are so in-depth you are able to believe they might actually exist. I admire J.K. Rowling for her ability to create such a detailed world in the Harry Potter series – maybe there really is magic among us but us “muggles” fail to see it. I love the concept that there are entire worlds that exist right under our noses, that the unusual phenomena that we find logical explanations for are really the doing of something bigger than ourselves.

In the back of my mind I’ve always thought about writing a children’s book or young adult novel with a premise like this, but I’d begun to think I’d lost that child-like imagination that was so vivid in my youth. I feared that I couldn’t write such a fantastical story as an adult.

underwater roomBut then, I dream about an underwater room hidden in a sprawling mansion that is filled creatures never seen in the real world, and I think maybe that child-like imagination is still there. It makes itself known in my subconscious, coming out in my dreams.

That dream inspired me to start writing a story, one that I probably would not have otherwise written.

Do your dreams inspire you to write?

If you haven’t got an idea, start a story anyway

As a writer, sometimes ideas come easy. Inspiration can strike while I’m in the shower, on the drive home from work, or while I’m reading. Ideas can take form from something someone says in passing conversation, the lyrics in a song, the words printed on a sign. But sometimes, our creative outlets are tapped. When you’re in a writing rut, nothing seems worth writing about.

It’s times like those, I find that I must write anyway.

William Campbell Gault says, “If you haven’t got an idea, start a story anyway. You can always throw it away, and maybe by the time you get to the fourth page you will have an idea, and you’ll only have to throw away the first three pages.”

writingSometimes the best thing I can do is write just to see where it takes me. I have to write outside my comfort zone, both literally and figuratively. Sometimes all it takes is changing my physical writing spot, like moving out to the patio to take in the sights, sounds and smells. Or ditching my laptop and taking a notebook to write from a coffee shop or a park bench – these are great places to eavesdrop on conversations and take notes!  A change of scenery and a change in the regular writing routine can be a simple trick to inspire something new.

But what happens when you get to the fourth page, or the tenth, and you still don’t have any ideas? We all have days when it seems no matter how much we write, or how hard we try, the writing just isn’t there.

And that’s okay. Not everything we write is publishable, sometimes it’s just practice.

Looking back in old backup documents, I recently found dozens of short pieces I had written over the years. I couldn’t  believe how many of them there were and it was fun looking back on them. And it was then, I realized, even if I never get to quit my day job to write full time, I can still call myself a writer because, after all, a writer writes. And I will always write.

What do you do when you’re stuck for ideas?

Finding Inspiration: Nature

A few days ago, I was driving home from work on a cloudy but warm fall day. As I exited the parkway, rather than turn left to go home, I turned right toward a local park on a bay. Despite this park’s proximity to my house, I don’t think I had ever been there.

I wandered onto a nature trail through the woods. I took in the earthy scent of the dried leaves, the sound of them crunching beneath my feet. As I walked, I didn’t know how far this trail would take me, I considered turning back.

Curious to know what was ahead, I continued on. At each bend that obstructed my view, I wanted to know what was beyond it. Though I didn’t know where I would wind up, I wanted to know where it would end.

Writing is like that sometimes. We don’t always know where it will take us, but we keep moving the story forward, letting the characters tell their stories. I think the goal is for our readers to experience that with our stories, the unexplainable desire to know what happens next, the urge to keep going, keep reading.

When we’re feeling uninspired, sometimes the best thing to do is to walk away for a little while. Get a change of scenery, do something that will clear your mind, like taking a walk.

Eventually I came to a fork in the path; I could continue straight or I could go to the left where the path seemed narrower, less inviting. I  followed the trail to the left and this took me straight to the bay.

There was a small picnic bench – a perfect spot for writing, I thought – an old boat, washed up and rotting, and a marina just a few yards away.

This is the washed up boat I found:

 

Use this image as a writing prompt – what is the story behind this boat, how did it get there?