Mining for Ideas

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I’m confident that everyone who writes has been asked on more than one occasion, “Where do you get your ideas?”
Even when I expect it, that question always makes me freeze. When I finally thaw, I hem and haw, shift from one foot to the other, scrunch my face, followed by a long exhale…you would think I was in pain. And I kind of am. Because try as I might, I cannot for the life of me come up with a good, concrete answer.

The truth is, ideas are literally everywhere. My fear is not having enough time to write all the stories that pop into my head. All the scenes I want to flesh out, all the characters through which I want to live vicariously, all the things I want to research to put into a book…well, you get the idea. I’ve had people tell me, “Hey, I’ve got this fabulous idea for a book. You should write it for me.” I give them a blank stare and then I cough, buying some time before I’m finally able to speak. “Uh, yeah,” I say, “as soon as I finish with all of the ideas I already have.” In other words, not in this lifetime.

Writers are day dreamers, night dreamers, creative thinkers, even when we’re not aware of it. I will sometimes hear something or witness something seemingly unimportant, but then remember it days or weeks down the road when it’s making its way into my WIP.

My ears perk up when I hear people squabbling in the grocery store line, Starbucks, or any public place. I listen to husbands and wives interacting with each, siblings of all ages, and words between friends. The best of all? Two strangers who strike up a conversation as they’re waiting for time to pass, whether in line somewhere or in a doctor’s office waiting room. It’s amazing what two people will tell each other in a public place when they’re oblivious to the fact that they’re surrounded by others.

Now, I don’t so much care about the words these people say, but rather the way they say them, their tone. I also try to sneak a peek (sneak, so I don’t come across as being a creeper) at their facial expressions and body language. It’s those moments captured, incorporating them into a character, that makes a character believable and come to life. It’s those nuances that give characters necessary layers.

Another thing I do is carry a little Sony digital recorder when I’m running, walking, or driving. Or any other time it isn’t possible to carry a notebook or safely write. It’s then that ideas pop into my head and I need to capture them before they disappear. I’ve learned a long time ago that even if the idea is so monumental I think there’s no way I could ever forget it, it still escapes me nearly every time. I get busy, life happens, and the idea is a whisper in the wind.

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So, go exercise that creative brain, take advantage of those night dreams and daydreams, and be careful what you say the next time you’re standing in line at the grocery store. If there’s a writer anywhere in the near vicinity, you’ll end up in a book.

“Every secret of a writer’s soul, every experience of his life, every quality of his mind, is written large in his works.”
—Virginia Woolf