One of the most common questions students ask writers is, “Where do you get your ideas?” When I present at schools, I talk about how writers come up with “What if?” questions to generate stories, so I tell them the better question is, “Where do you get your questions?”
Either way, student and adult writers want to know where ideas come from, how to hold onto them, and how to nourish them into fruition. Of course there is no magic formula, but if I had to give one piece of advice, it would be this: be bored.
That technology has deeply infiltrated most of our lives is a fact, and the effects of this infiltration are multiple and complicated. By and large, I am grateful for the advantages technology has brought to my life, but if there was one aspect which I think is a true danger it’s that we rarely have to be bored anymore. Long line at the coffee shop? Pull out the phone and check Twitter. Kid’s practice is running late? Time to read email on my iPad.
Writers, though – and I imagine all creative people – get ideas by looking both inward and outward. We observe, we notice, we ask questions (“Why is that man wearing hunting gear and flip flops?”). Sometimes these ideas are fleeting, but other times they take root and grow into stories. My husband and I were driving together when he pointed out the cemetery where his grandparents were buried. I noticed a bike next to a house in the cemetery – “Does a child live there?” I wondered. And then I imagined that child. Who is she? What games does she play? And that child became Hazel Kaplansky, heroine of my secondmiddle grade novel. Had I been distracted by my phone, and given only a cursory glance, a whole novel might not have been born.
Similarly, once you have an idea and you are working on it, there will be times when you get stuck. But something you see when you look up and notice things might spark the next phase of the project, or might untangle a knot you’ve tied. You start to see the world through the lens of your story. Something you notice – some little detail – can wiggle its way into your mind and onto the page.
Stop, look, listen. Cultivate boredom; harvest stories.