Tuesday, December 29

Posted by Laurel Garver on Tuesday, December 29, 2009 13 comments
Where do you get your ideas?

It's the Grand FAQ we writers face nearly every time we meet someone new. Some writers will tell you they write from life. They're trying to process their experiences, find some closure, warn others off their path of folly. My hats off to them. Autobiographical writing scares the snot out of me. Maybe when I'm 60 I'll be gutsy and wise enough to open myself up in that way.

Other writers are escapists like me, who write to enter fully into another life, another story. To shape it and be shaped by it. Writers like this will often give the quick and easy answer that "stories are everywhere, you just have to look." They make it sound so nice, like we non-autobiographical writers are the plucky pirate heroes who know how to walk 20 paces east and 3 paces north, dig a spade into the soft dirt and unearth a treasure.

Here's a dirty secret: realizing that stories are everywhere makes you feel somewhat insane. Unweeded gardens talk to you, tell you of despondency and pain. Your neighbor's bulging recycling bin sweeps you away to a party where one-time friends snub each other and the host pukes on his dream girl's shoes. Random strangers on the train captivate you, make you start stalking them so you can capture how they walk, swirl coffee in a travel mug, high-five a classmate.

I've yet to formulate an honest response about the source of my ideas that doesn't send my new acquaintance running for the DSM-IV. Due to the curse of an overactive imagination, I can actually imagine this happening to me at a party--three pages of dialogue sprinkled with action and description. And four other alternate scenarios as well, one of which involves a dog licking the canape in my acquaintance's hand when she's not looking. That's just how my brain works. I'd invite you for a tour, but it would probably scare you.

How do you answer the question "Where do you get your ideas?" when non-writers ask it?

*this is a re-post from July, in case anyone is having a strange sense of déjà vu.
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  1. You're right - that is a bib FAQ. Seriously, most of my ideas come from my husband's wacky sense of humor and from watching/working with kids. But remember, I write PB's and chapter books, so it's a little different for me. :)

  2. Ha! I love the image of the dog licking the canape. I was just telling my mom over Christmas that no matter where I am or what I'm doing, my mind goes to story ideas. I'd say that my ideas come from all around me. I'm sure a tour of my brain would be just as frightening as one of yours.

  3. Well, one story idea I got from you. :)

    The other ones? Stories I've heard and want to retell, songs that trigger memories that can be recast and refined, things I wish I'd done but didn't, conversations I overhear, etc., etc., ad nauseam...

    Good thing we're not a telepathic race, 'cause the writers'd have to hide far away from everyone or risk ostracization or public pillorying.

  4. Shannon: good sources, all, and not as embarrassing to talk about at parties!

    Susan: welcome and thanks for following. Once that imaginative window opens, seems like there's no closing it.

    Simon: I especially like the "things I wish I'd done but didn't". Re-writing the past is an interesting impulse in fiction. You should totally blog about that some time. (Whoops, there I go again, giving you ideas.) Telepathy: perish the thought. We would surely be locked up in such a world.

  5. I get my stories from everywhere. Some come from experiences I've had, most from images I see, things I come across. I think there's pretty much a story in everything you see. A man walks into a bar carrying a shopping bag from Victoria's Secret and 1. He's meeting his girlfiend for a drink on her birthday or 2. He's a closet transvestite stopping in for a drink on his way home to change or 3. He's stopping in for a courage-drink on his way to hold up a liquor store with the shotgun and ski mask he has hidden in the VS bag...stories are everywhere. You just have to see them.

    Yet another brilliant post, Laurel!

  6. what a question! for me they can come in many forms. for example, i saw an internet article about slave trafficking in America and wondered what kind of story was there. i see a picture and wonder what's going on in that person's life. i hear a song and think it would make a good story.

    thanks for stopping by my blog.


  7. Mine usually come when I'm doing something boring and my mind can roam (like dishes or snow shoveling). For me, they just pop up in a stream of consciousness. Like: Wow, it's cold out here... wouldn't it be nice if they made clothes with heaters built in... what if there was massive global cooling and everyone had to walk around snow covered tundra in heated suits. (that was a lame example)

  8. Carolina: I get those multiple story lines rolling a lot too. I sometimes wish some of the regulars I see commuting every day knew how imaginative their fake lives are in my imagination. LOL.

    Michelle: News stories do make intriguing writing prompts. I'm wondering what the story was of the guy with three officers wrestling him to the ground at Market East Station in Philly this afternoon. Oh, wait, I actually saw that happen.

    Natalie: dishwasing and dog walking are my best daydreaming/brainstorming times. The heated suits idea made me giggle a little. :-)

  9. My best ideas come to me while day dreaming and people watching. Strangers never let you down. There's always a story.
    Give them just a little space, then secretly grab a pen. You can have a novel by dinner.

  10. I just found your blog and I am love. The way you write is incredible. I'm not sure if you've received it already, but I have a tag over at my blog for you.

  11. I've just stumbled upon you via Simon.C Larter at Constant Revision.

    Your writing is an out-and-out delight. Thoroughly enjoyed the post.

    Will be following :)

    Happy New Year.

  12. Mary: Thanks for stopping by. A novel by dinner! I wish my brain worked that fast. But yes, good quality people watching does get the idea machine going.

    Heather: Wow, thanks. I'm blushing. Ah, the writer's meme. I'll take a crack at it soon. Thanks for asking!

    Hi quill: thanks for the follow and your kind words. Simon has been a great encourager in the journey. Hmmm...I may have to do a few more lazy re-posts. I think I was less self-conscious when I only had three followers. (-:

  13. You are right about the overreactive imagination thing! I hear you on that one. I travel a lot so many of my stories are from my personal adventures.