Where do you get your ideas?
Simple, I have a machine in my house built from spare parts found on the side of the road and at yard sales that I crank up whenever I am in need of an idea. The crank is the most important part. The ones from Victrola’s are the best.
Yes, it’s how I came up with this blog title. Ok, not really. Ideas don’t come from a machine or a store. Although a visit to the store or watching an intrici machine work might spark one. What gets me going on a story or even an essay is a thought that worms its way out of my head onto the page. I have to get it out.
Sometimes it is the beginning line. When I started writing Blood Child, I was standing on my front porch in Florida holding a glass of wine watching a car pulling in across the street. My ex-boyfriend was coming home with his new girlfriend. I said out loud to no one in particular “I am not drunk enough for this.” and that became “I am not drunk enough to talk about it now.” The first line of my novella.
The idea that there was something that needed to be done or dealt with and the person faced with choice reaches for liquid courage. My fascination with Elizabeth Bathory, the Blood Countness, and love of mysteries did the rest.
Other times, it is an image. When I started Shadow’s Tale, I had been looking over some old photos. Shadow was a real cat and finding his picture, I wondered what would happen if a cat came back as a ghost with unfinished business.
Cooking with the Dead, a work in progress came from talking with a friend about how I cook. Cooking for me invokes my grandmother and when I sat down to write that day I started to wonder what would happen if cooking called other loved ones the way a medium does.
I started one short story after I was annoyed at how I had been cut out of the retelling of a neighbor’s tragic accident. I wanted to tell what really happened. How when our neighbor Larry fell off the roof, it was myself and my boyfriend at the time who reached him first, not our landlord who was frozen by his car or others who heard the commotion. Really, it was LJ who sounded the alarm and directed people to call 911 as I tended to Larry. Of course, the story turned into something else by the time it was done.
This may sound like inspiration strikes often but it isn’t as mysterious as it may seem. For myself, it is really about uncovering the story once the idea get out. Something that Stephen King talked about his book On Writing.
To finish what I am writing, I continually asking myself what happens next and repeating until the story is done. Sometimes, I play a game for ten minutes or take a walk before I sit back down to write. But that is a topic for another blog.
There are a couple of other things I do that have helped me generate ideas more consistently.
A book or three go with me everywhere. When I went to France in 2019, I took three books with me. When I go to work, I have a book. Car rides and housework is perfect for audiobooks. If I am caught without a book, there is the Kindle app on my home.
In 2020, I read 72 books according to Goodreads. It was probably more, but somewhere along the way I gave up recording them and I read some books twice.
Reading feeds my brain. And as I write more I have begun to take note of how the authors I enjoy structure their work. The things they tells us and the things that leave out. Stephen King’s Salem’s Lot is one of my favorite vampire novels. Yet, he doesn’t use the word vampire until the last part of the book. He doesn’t need to for his reader to understand the horrors unfolding in the town of Jerusalem’s Lot.
Make time for Learning
Listen to or watch the news as painful as it these days is important for understanding how the world works. If you pay attention you will learn a lot more about human nature than you think. Listen to a podcast on a topic that interests you. Sign up for a distance learning class, study another language through an app. Watch a documentary. Right now, I am hooked on the MasterClass lessons specially those by Ru Paul and Neil Gaimen.
Learning in my opinion always adds to life and is rarely a waste of time.
Keep a Journal
Last year, I finished A Handbook for the Productive Writer by Bryan Collins. Several of his suggestions include keeping an idea file and/or journaling. He actually suggests keeping different journals for different things. Something I do and I don’t do.
I have a daily journal which I write in … you guessed it daily and take nearly everywhere with me. It goes to work with me. It went hiking last weekend and is tucked into my bag everyday when I go to work. And just in case, I forget I have a small emergency journal. Since February of last year, I’ve only missed a few days and those were due to illness (Thanks Covid).
My daily journal records ideas, lines from books that I like and other thoughts. I keep all of my journals once they are finished by my desk so I can refer to him.
An Idea book lives in the top right hand drawer of my desk which I use to record ideas for blogs and videos.
Another journal is my class notebook. When I take a course writing or otherwise, I keep notes in this journal. I learned the hard way to keep all of the journals handy for reference. Thanks to my sweetheart, I also have a fabulous Tarot planner from Writual planners that use for reflection as well as planning.
It really isn’t as much work as it sounds. Although one thing I am constantly doing besides reading is tidying my office so everything can be found when I need it.
Isn’t that the same as journaling? No, journaling is my writing warm up: a free write if you will. Typically, I journal while I am letting my first cup of coffee do its thing. On weekdays, I write after dinner and on weekends as soon as I can after the morning dog walk.
Do I miss days? Yes, when I am sick or traveling it happens. And when it does, I don’t beat myself up about it. Stephen King reports writing everyday but two; his birthday and Christmas. Right now, I have finished dinner and turned on the latest episode of the Watch on Amazon Prime. (I love Terry Pratchett!) When I get in the groove, I pause the show.
The more you write the easier it is to write. Developing a daily practice of writing takes work and I will admit some days I struggle with it still. Other times when I am trying to take a break I feel compelled to write because my body and mind know what time it is. I keep working on being a better writer because I know in my heart the stories aren’t going to stop coming so I might as well get better at telling them.
All of the above couldn’t be done if I hadn’t started making space for writing and reading. My daily to-do list (something I know isn’t everyone’s cup of tea) always includes writing and reading as well as journaling as task items. Why, because if I write it everyday I know that everyday it is important to me to get these things done. It also helps with my depression and anxiety to see have a visual of these things even if it is something I know I am going to do, crossing it off feels good.
Rising earlier than I need to gives me time to read and journal with fewer interruptions. I don’t linger downstairs on weeknights after dinner so I have at least 45 minutes before heading to bed to write or edit.
It means planning ahead when I know I have a busy day to set aside the time to do these things. It also means being flexible. If I know that a hectic day is approaching, I tend to lower my writing expectations for that day.
My friend and fellow author, Marshall Stephen, has encouraged me so often on those days to just write a hundred words that now often hear his voice when I am struggling pushing me to write a few more words. And it works. Sometimes I write the hundred, sometimes it is more. Either way it is a victory because you guessed it, I wrote.
Writing is art. The act of writing is my chosen form of art; an expression of which I could not live without. Generating ideas for art is never as hard or as simple as it sounds. It has taken me several years to put together what works for me and I am still working on it. It is like most of life a learning process.
I would love to hear your thoughts on the creative process and how you come with ideas for your own art whatever that may be.
Be Well, Be Safe and Stay Spooky,