Sunday, May 20, 2007

Getting Ideas

by Lu Ann Brobst Staheli

I attend a lot of conferences where published authors speak. Without fail, the most often asked question from the audience is: Where do your ideas come from? Although writers often have specific events that trigger a scene or an entire story, the most reliable answer to this question is everywhere!

Writers are people who pay attention. They watch for the small detail, snatch segments of interesting conversations, see how life itself fits neatly into the outline of a plot, get inspiration from their own life, the lives of others, things they see on television, in the movies, read in books, and on and on.

The difference between the author and anyone else is that the writer actually writes. Most people who say they would like to write just never take the time to do so, letting their ideas stagnate until they just fade away.

If you’d like to write, but think you don’t have any ideas, here are a few techniques that might get you started. Keep a journal to record your ideas.

  • Free-writing is to write whatever pops into your head. Start with a word or topic like Christmas. Don’t worry about complete sentences or proper punctuation. Set a timer for ten minutes and don’t stop writing until the buzzer sounds, even if you have to keep writing the same word over and over.
  • Brainstorming uses free association. Write a subject at the top of your paper, then list every idea that comes to your mind relating to that idea.
  • Clustering, also known as webbing, uses this same principle, only you make word bubbles which connect ideas across your page.
  • Asking questions is a technique used by news reporters. Ask: Who, What, Where, When, How, and Why. Although not every topic can answer every question, you’ll have plenty of raw material to write a rough draft.
  • Use your senses. Most people rely on the sense of sight, but every second you’re awake your brain is taking in information from all five of your senses: sight, hearing, smell, taste, and touch. Even the most common places overflow with sensory detail if you just stop to notice them.
  • What if questioning is a creative thinking technique which allows the writer to use cause and effect thinking. Author Stephen King sometimes uses this method. "What if you could bury something dead and it came back to life? What if a car had a personality and learned to love its owner? What if you could start a fire just by thinking about it?" If you’re a King fan, you will recognize the questions as some of his famous books.
As you go about your business this week, start acting like a writer. Look for ideas at home, at work, or during recreational activities. Jot these ideas in your writer’s notebook, then use one of these ideas to help you put together a story, essay, or a poem.

You’ll be amazed by how many new ideas will come into your head, and when a reader asks where your ideas come from, you’ll have the answer.

1 comment:

Heather B. Moore said...

Great blog, LuAnn. I think most writers have had non-writers ask how we get our ideas. Sometimes for me, it's not how to get ideas, it's how to choose which idea to devote my writing time to.