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The Writer's Compass » About Writing, Becoming A Writer, The Writer's Life, Writing Exercises » Finding Ideas: Where are they when you need one?

Finding Ideas: Where are they when you need one?

Actually, they are everywhere, it’s just that sometimes we are too focused on the immediate to see the potential. When our minds are filled with paying bills and making ends meet or job stresses, home stresses, family stresses, or school stresses, it can be difficult to look objectively or creatively at the world around us and see the stories strewn haphazardly about.

Ideas come from strong emotions and feelings, from inspiration like paintings or music or a walk in nature. They come from dreams and news stories and personal stories and our responses to stories of “What if it didn’t happen that way, but it happened this way?”

Ideas can be created from clustering exercises, or mind mapping as some call it, from word associations, from figuring out important themes and truths you want to explore or issues you want to focus on. Sometimes drawing or the act of doodling can open the pathways to new ideas. They can be triggered by freeing your mind from turmoil and allowing your esp a chance to engage in the world around you.

I used to play a game in that someone would give me a word, and I would give them a story idea. I have hundreds, if not thousands, of story ideas that I can’t seem to find the time to work on. I see stories in everything and everywhere. Like my play Pitter-Patter, which came from walking past a swimming pool and hearing the words pitter-patter and then asking myself what is pitter-patter? The return was, drips from a faucet? So, who cares about drips from a faucet? The person whose big toe got stuck in the faucet playing with those drips. Or the idea for Guit came from a guitar on a stand in the corner of a friend’s apartment. Guit is the nickname of a special needs child whose father is a woodworker. He finally learns to communicate with the boy through music, eventually building the child a beautiful guitar. Or the idea for “The Bus Boy” came from traveling across the U.S. and seeing an old man working as a bus boy in a restaurant and wondering what his dreams might be.

Vague ideas can come into focus by asking yourself questions: What does it mean? Why is it important? Who would care? What would make it worse? What would make it better? And then what happened?

The hardest ideas to write about are the ones caused by personal trauma or turmoil. In my classes students often want to write about a trauma from their own life. Although usually it is an important and interesting story to tell, I try to discourage them. One, because they only have one semester to write and that is not enough time to deal with a personal trauma. They spend most of the semester struggling with how to tell a story that they are presently too close to and haven’t had time to develop perspective.  And two, because I don’t want them dredging up painful memories and then the semester is over and they are left with all of this conflict and unresolved pain. In some cases I tell them I will not allow them to write about the trauma unless they get counseling while they are writing. I don’t want wounds opened that cannot heal or close without professional guidance, just to fulfill an assignment for my class. Some things are better left to time.

Now if I could just figure out an idea for a story from the rat that fell through the screen and landed on my head while I was sound asleep. However, I’m sure once the trauma has passed, I’ll think of something.

If you clear your mind, what two things happened in your day that could be an idea for a story?

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Filed under: About Writing, Becoming A Writer, The Writer's Life, Writing Exercises · Tags: , ,

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