Wednesday, January 30, 2008

5 Tricks to Finding Fabulous Writing Ideas

Fairies Beside the Road

Recently, I revealed what yawning guys and ladies with letters have to do with why I write.

Today I just want to talk about how we can get fabulous ideas, once we've found our reason for writing. Here are 5 thoughts:

1. Exercise. I say this because I got the idea for Stone Crossings somewhere between a leg lift and a push up. This probably had less to do with the kind of exercise I was doing and more to do with mental space. That is, when we give ourselves the time and circumstance to simply drift in our thoughts, we find little places to dock. Some of these little places might turn into a letter to Grandma, but some might turn into a blog post or a book.

2. Draw. The artwork you see above is the beginning of my daughter's tale about fairies. It's a great story that includes the surprising revelation that fairies are born when they pop out of blooming flowers. When the time is right, they fly up to the sky to get their names, which come to them on a sunbeam. The takeaway for us writers is that it's good to sometimes begin in pictures, without any preconceived ideas about where we need to be going.

3. Stand on your head. (see 5)

4. Pour water over your head. (also see 5)

5. Bang your head against the wall. Okay, so three through five are really the Frog and Toad approach to finding story ideas. When frog and toad had done all these things and more, they found they had a story to tell. The moral? Sometimes we just need to be open to experiences, no matter how mundane they seem on the surface.

Just 5 tricks. Now let's trade. How do you get your story ideas?

Fairies Hiding artwork, by Sara. Used by permission.

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Blogger Rebecca said...

People watching! If you're hard up for ideas, go somewhere where there are a lot of people and let your imagination run wild, creating stories of where they've been, where they're going, who they love, etc. I find that gets the juices flowing.

10:14 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Man! Rebecca said it first.
Yeah, exercising and people watching are my two biggest. If I'm really, really stuck, cleaning.
I hate cleaning, but it's mindless work that lets my imagination go.
But I don't have the money for that really.
Occasionally news stories.
And art, which you've mentioned.

10:17 PM  
Blogger Nikki said...

Well... the mantra in Anne of Green Gables is something to the effect of "write what you know". So, if I do what Anne learned to do, what I know just comes from living in a place and time and being fallible. My writing is regrettably narcissistic sometimes, as a result. I often have days when I have a flood of ideas or writing themes. Almost all of it comes out of my own experiences or the stories related to me by others.

That's when I turn to Santa for help. His rule is to make a list and check it twice. I really don't have a shortage of writing topics if I make note of ideas as they come up - especially at times when the creativity is flowing but the time isn't right for writing. I can check the list later when I want to write and don't have ideas floating around.

10:20 AM  
Blogger Katrina @ Callapidder Days said...

I completely agree with exercise. Quiet car rides work for me too (although, to be honest, they are not completely quiet -- there's usually a Veggie Tales CD playing through back speakers only to entertain the toddler while I attempt to think).

Reading magazines is also an idea-generator. Whether I come across an essay that awakens forgotten memories or read a how-to that inspires other how-to lists in my own mind, I rarely come away from a magazine without several new ideas.

11:05 AM  
Blogger Lara said...

Conflict! I've found that when I see people clashing or find myself butting heads with someone I want to process it through writing. Conflict has yielded article ideas, essays and even an idea for a novel. I think one way I process problems is through writing - to help me and to help others who might be in the same situation.

Good question! I'm enjoying the answers and your thoughts.

12:18 PM  
Blogger L.L. Barkat said...

Rebecca... Welcome to Seedlings. Oh, yes. People watching. Does it count to watch oneself? :)

Heather... cleaning. Hmmm.... I'll take the travel option.

Nikki... the Santa thing made me laugh. Some of the best writers are a little self-focused. Think of Anne Lamott!

Katrina... I agree that reading often fuels my ideas.

A Musing... Conflict! Yes I could see how that could create a sense of tension that the best writing tries to develop and then resolve.

5:13 PM  
Blogger Unknown said...

Life--but not at too busy a pace (well, if it's busy I still get ideas, but just don't have time to write them up).

I need to experience life with a little breathing room to process it. If I always have my notebook handy, I do okay at capturing it.

I've also found lately that reading God's word brings to mind something that I've been pondering and sort of ties it all together. I love that--when several seemingly random thoughts come together into one idea.

6:52 PM  
Blogger Lynet said...

Well, when it comes to poetry, I tend to get inspiration from one of the following:

- phrases that unexpectedly turn out to be iambic

- ideas or feelings that I've been trying to get my head around

- something I want to say that might be more meaningful in verse

- forms that I want to try

In fact, usually it's a combination of at least two of those that does the trick.

Exercise, now, exercise is what I use when I'm halfway through a poem and most of it is there but I still have gaps to fill. Generally I go for a dancing, running drifting walk and alternate between concentrating and letting my mind wander along with my feet.

In the past, when I've written short stories, I've found my ideas either from my own experiences or from random words. What you do with random words is you pick seven unrelated words and try to use them all in a story. It can work quite well if you want to write something different to what you would usually do, so it's good for expanding your scope.

11:28 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Great post, LL! I get a lot of ideas from making personal connections to books I'm reading. Also, making space for mental processing, either through exercising, journaling, sitting quietly, talking with others about the ideas I'm banging around. I use a lot of the ideas others have mentioned too. I always write down every idea, whether it turns out to be a good one or not. Also, I get tons of ideas from regularly listening to NPR and keeping notes of interesting comments, facts, ideas, etc. Now, turning those ideas into articles, stories, etc. is another issue. Still waiting to find my muse most days!

11:57 AM  
Blogger nannykim said...

I love frog and toad!!! I don't write stories, but I find (if I did!!) that the show and tells people put on the blogs inspire many stories in my mind. One lady today showed a picture she purchased just for the frame, but when she got it home she realized it was a water color. It had an inscription on the back to some baby (if I rem. correctly) and the framing was done in the Philipians (hmmmm--spelling???). Any ways I find many things on the show and tells could inspire cooool stories.

5:29 PM  
Blogger Ted M. Gossard said...

Interesting, as usual.

Drawing not my forte, can't even write well anymore. I'm not good in Pictionary!

I write mainly from what I think God is working or doing in my life. Or on something related to what I'm going through. Always trying to do so from a biblical theological perspective that like Scripture, is down to earth, where we live.

6:47 PM  
Blogger Every Square Inch said...


Fun post!

Reading works for me. Reading a broad set of content really works - ranging from blogs to books, from Bible to Business Week, from theology to technology.

8:30 AM  
Blogger Martin Stickland said...

I like your daughters artwork and what a cute idea about the fairies!

Have a good week!

5:36 PM  
Blogger Marcus Goodyear said...

L.L., you are so good at getting people to comment. Here are my five:

1) Get up early.
2) Go to be early-ish. (Necessary for step one to work.)
3) Dream dreams. Literally. That's where a lot of my ideas come from.
4) Anything I love. People become characters. Stories are gifts to people. Genres I love inspire me too.

And finally.

5) Eat lots of literary prunes. A healthy diet of good poetry, literature, and well-written genre fiction helps keep me regular.

Too early in the week for scatological humor?

1:13 PM  
Blogger Erin said...

I get ideas sitting in or working in my garden, interacting/arguing/watching/playing with/scolding/teaching my kids, thinking about my childhood, watching nature... in a nutshell, I think my ideas come from a process of synthesizing my life experience and my spiritual experience, and hopefully coming to a crossroads where both meet and merge into solid theology and something solid on which to stand.

Now turning those writing ideas into words on paper/screen is an entirely different matter. I require something mundane happening in the foreground (showering, mowing the lawn, washing dishes, folding laundry, fixing dinner, digging in the dirt) so that my subconscious can mull over the pieces of the word puzzle in the background without disturbance. So much of life seems to require my full attention, I relish the opportunity to put a pot on to boil in the recess of my brain. Who can tell what's going to come out in the end. Empire of the Ants, maybe. ;)

3:45 PM  
Blogger L.L. Barkat said...

Oh, I went off and planned a party and got too behind in the comments here. It was a great party though. And you all have left some great ideas!

8:46 PM  
Blogger 23 degrees said...

Some good thoughts here, and LOVE LOVE LOVE the artwork!

Music and story inspire me. It's funny how I will hang on to one album for along time. The last few months it has been Joshua Tree (U2)

10:25 PM  
Blogger L.L. Barkat said...

23... Oh, so glad you noticed and liked the artwork. I love everything she touches. I have no idea if she will grow up wanting to be an artist, but it will be part of her no matter what she puts her mind and hands to. Thanks for making mention of it!

12:54 PM  

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