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Richard Nordquist

Where Do You Get Your Ideas?

By August 21, 2009

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During interviews, book signings, and panel discussions, it's the question that professional writers hear more often than any other: Where do your ideas come from?

Some authors simply roll their eyes and plead ignorance. Others shrug it off with a wisecrack. ("Schenectady" is Harlan Ellison's stock reply.)

But to novice writers--college freshmen, for instance--the question calls for more than a joke. Finding a topic and coming up with something fresh to say about it can be the most difficult part of any writing project.

Fortunately, these ten writers have given the question some thought.

For the complete article, go to Where Do Writers Find Their Ideas?


August 24, 2009 at 10:49 am
(1) gina says:

This is a good message for writers, a helpful exercise, to reflect on. Thanks for provoking such reflection.

After I have time to do just that–reflect–I will return to answer the question.

August 24, 2009 at 12:29 pm
(2) Felipe de Ortego y Gasca says:

Ideas for writing are everywhere. The world is a storied planet. For me, at least, ideas have never been a problem; managing the time to write “them” is the hard part.

(Felipe de Ortego y Gasca, Chicano writer)

August 24, 2009 at 12:47 pm
(3) Cici says:

My ideas come to me in different ways, depending on what type of idea is generated. They are part God and angel, part me through my worldview filter, part bits of information coming into me, and part something else far deeper than consciousness. Whatever it is, it’s wonderful, and I feel blessed to have this. That being said, I have to be “open” to it constantly for it to flow. I can ignore writing and the ideas in my mind, but it makes me miserable, so it’s better to embrace them.

Essays usually hit me without entirely conscious knowledge of the topic when I am releasing stress with free writing. Two pages in I’ll stop for air, reread the last few graphs and realize that four or five paragraphs ago, I started writing the beginnings of an essay. If I choose to spend time with it in subsequent days or weeks, it gets finished and polished. If not, it stays as is and never sees the light of day.

Fiction comes in three ways; automatically in ideas, scenes and jokes that can pop up anytime, and appear usually when my head drifts away from other things throughout my day–I could be cleaning or spacing out during a boring conversation with a “monologouer.” It used to happen all of the time when I held a regular office job during long, unnecessary meetings or back in college when mini-laptops became acceptable to take notes on in class and I could fake note-take while writing stories and get away with it, drifting in and out of the class material just enough to keep up and do well. It’s a lot like a magnet attracting particles to an already established story idea and my brain says, “Oh yeah, and then there’s this–ha! Look how it fits!” It also happens when I consciously sit down and let me head go to that “problem-solving” brainstorming spot, which is a lot like daydreaming (though it usually happens at night, and more often when I am alone and free of most stimulus). This is more for story structure and character exploration usually. Then there is music-assisted writing, which is kind of a treat to me, much along the lines of a writing exercise. I choose one song that kind of grabs me in the moment and I try to “convey” what that song is saying in a story or a scene. This method is for when I don’t feel like working on anything “concentrated” (i.e., my established stories I’m working on that I hope to publish) and instead like to revel in “rule-less-ness.”) While I’ve never used those characters and scenes in any of my established work, they do make for great short stories.

Poetry comes to me infrequently, but when it does, it nags me with sharp lines that I must commit to scraps of paper, usually while sitting at my desk working on some kind of paying business writing work. When those nags come repetitively within an hour or three stretch and one piece of printer paper is covered with lines on one side, I must work with it then, tirelessly editing until you can bounce a quarter off of it or let it languish on my desk for two days until I throw it out.

August 24, 2009 at 12:55 pm
(4) Roy Latham says:

Pick something that annoys, amazes, excites, or interests you. This happens every day, so what’s necessary is to take note of it. For example, I was recently annoyed by political commentators that confuse “hypocrisy” with “playing the cards you’re dealt.” How could professional analysts make such an obvious mistake? I recently saw some software that does an amazing job of simply generating animated logos. Now everyone can have flying chrome in their e-mail — if they want it. On a picnic, the seemingly simple ingredients (salami, cheese, olives) were prepared by master artisans halfway around the world and ended up on my table. I think the trick is making a mental note of interesting things when they occur, rather than let them pass. The next step is to ask why they struck you as interesting.

August 24, 2009 at 5:52 pm
(5) Louise Huebner says:

In respose to another of Pro. Richard Nordquist’s provocative Questions; that seem to always touch a nerve: “Where do I get my writing ideas?”

Where indeed?

I hear a Coyote Howl in the Canyon, or a family of Foxes yelping; I see a Red Spider dangling from a long glimmering golden thread, swaying dangerously off the edge of the kitchen roof, as it peeks into the sunroom window, and wonders respectfully at my being, matching my wondering at its; while my black cat, Fifi, and her one black kitten, Rocky, stare in quiet suppressed energy, at a young squirrel, on the deck rail, who appears to be oblivious to their plans, or is simply spiteful, and so contiues to steal dog cookies, scattered about and belonging to my part Dingo part Chow Chow, who as usual is sleeping in a bed of dry dropped Rubber Tree leaves; and it’s all I can do to keep from writing … something. But none of these points of interest are my topic, and I go back to Ghosts and Pluto and the Moon. I don’t know for certain where my writing is born (each time). I’m not inclined to think my ‘gift’ is worthy of it being attributed to God or Angels, but I would say there is a bit of a connection to God in that my senses, coming from God, may be a contributing factor.

I see, I hear, I smell, I taste, I touch, and therefore I write. I guess it’s my sixth sense.

Hmmm. Maybe it is a ‘gift’ form God.

If so: Thanks God!

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