Wednesday, September 19, 2012

from whence writing ideas come

where do you get your ideas?

i'm not certain, but i believe that most published authors get asked this a lot more than any other question. [this assumption, of course, is based on what i've heard and read as i've relentlessly stalked the lives of my favorite authors, both online and in person.]

well, it's your lucky day because i'm here to tell you where we get our ideas and where you can get them too! they come from a section in target, near the seasonal items, always on the bottom shelf, in boxes labeled "really awesome story ideas".

not amused, huh? okay, seriously, i've heard authors answer this in a lot of ways.

some try to be funny, i think it was steven king who joked with fans that he gets his ideas at walmart. THAT IS JUST ONE MORE REASON NOT TO SHOP THERE, PEEPS.

i've heard authors answer arrogantly: i make them up, duh. my ideas come from my brain. which is totally not helpful.

but those authors are kind of also, annoyingly, right. you need to create ideas. but there's a process i learned to follow for getting those ideas, and it worked really well for the novel i'm working on right now and it starts with making a list.

raise your hand if you like making lists as much as i do. okay, now go grab a notebook or open up a new word doc and start making a list.

think about people who are interesting to you. not people you want to be like, or admire, but people that are in situations or do things that make you think big thoughts. when i did this, i listed people like: homeless bums. (why are they homeless? do they like it? are they ashamed?) people who live double lives (i love the idea of keeping a secret. are they doing it to protect someone? to avoid getting caught?) addicts (the idea of someone who feels so intensely that they must buffer the sensations of the world is so interesting to me).

now make a list of the last ten people who did something to hurt you. go ahead. savor those resentments. ha! no really, don't dwell on past wrongs, but just remember those people. thinking about people who hurt you opens up your heart to pain, but it also opens it up to ideas, i think. when i did this, i could only think of five people who have ever hurt me in my entire life. i don't know what this means. but moving on...

make a list of places that you consider spiritual homes. places you feel the most serene, the most calm, the most in tune with the universe. THERE'S A REASON BOTH MY BOOKS HAVE REFERENCES TO CITRUS GROVES.

now make a list of places that scare you. tall cliffs? dark forests? suffocating small towns? see how this works?

now make a list of themes or concepts that engage your mind. your list could be single words or paragraphs or more. one word or idea may spark more. make yourself continue listing for at least 15 minutes. i especially love the story and themes of THE PRODIGAL SON. on my list i have things like: self loathing, redemption, jealousy, betrayal, secrecy, revenge, vindication. these are the things juicy stories are made of.


if you're like me, or have the heart of a potential writer inside you, by this point characters or places or ideas have coalesced or combined or generated in your own mind the seed of a story idea.

once i have the seed of an idea, i move on to brainstorming, which sparks a future blog post idea. for another day, peeps, another day.

at least that's how it worked for me. i'd love to hear where your ideas come from.


  1. Great advice. I like this much better than a simple, "I make it up." Or, "I had a dream about it." I was starting to wonder if my dreams sucked because I had neither scary enough ones to be like Stephen King or fantasy-ish ones to be like Stephenie Meyer. Good to know that you have to work for your ideas. :)

  2. i'm glad my backyard is practically one of your spiritual homes. i love sitting back there lost in the trees. now if only there was a way to put a sound barrier to eliminate the noise from the road. :)

  3. i LOVE this. i can't wait for your next post. . .