Idea Mining By Ann Haywood Leal

“Oh, it is interesting, the creative process.  Where was this story before I wrote it down?  I don’t know.  It certainly wasn’t in my head.”  --Gore Vidal

I think the idea process is the part of writing that I love most. 
I like to go to a worn, well-traveled area and sit still with my notebook.  Train stations can be perfect for this kind of brainstorming and idea-mining, because of the combinations and variety of people.  There will be those who are actually going somewhere, and those who are biding their time, wishing for a destination. 

Then I listen -- I mean really listen – to voice inflections and accents, to tones and volume.  What is that woman in the corner  worried about?  What is that young man on the steps so excited about? What is making that couple on the bench so angry?  And that woman with the cell phone imbedded in her cheek . . . what is the person on the other end saying? 

I’ll try to notice quirks and facial expressions, body language and eye rolling.  Then I’ll ask myself, How can I use this? 
How do I know if that person or that line is worthy of a story?  It hangs around in my head for a good while….it’s that phrase I can’t stop thinking about.  It makes me wonder, or smile, or cringe, and I have to write it down. 
One thing that is important for me is to keep myself open to new ideas –not just at the brewing, beginning stages of a story or book, but throughout my writing.  This is what starts to round out my characters as I go, and what fills up my story, as a whole.  Even after I have that initial motivating idea, I try to keep the brainstorming going.

We take notes on what we see and hear and audition them on the page.  Trying out new ideas takes risk and guts, because you can’t leave them floating around in your head. You have to be willing to take it one step further and put them down on the page.


  1. My favorite moments are when an unexpected idea about a story pops into mind while I'm doing some mundane, totally unrelated task. I've been known to recite a good sentence or plot point over and over on a walk so as not to forget it when I get back indoors.

  2. I know exactly what you mean, Darlene!

  3. I love that quote--and the idea of a story being somewhere else before it was with me.

  4. Now I need to find myself a convenient train station, notebook in hand!

  5. Now I need to find myself a convenient train station, notebook in hand!


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