Where Writing Ideas Come From, or, What I Did Over Summer Vacation

At school visits, I always kind of marvel over that question, "Where do you get your ideas?" For me, the world -- life -- is bursting with ideas! Finding them is not my problem; choosing -- and sticking to -- just one at a time is! But that's really a discussion for another day.

So today, for the curious, I'll share with you where some of the ideas have come from for some of my books, and also share with you some new ideas that have found me this summer.


coming Oct. 1 with
illus. by Thea Baker
1. BOOKS - Like most authors, I'm an avid reader. So many of my ideas come as a result of reading! My next release LOVE, AGNES: POSTCARDS FROM AN OCTOPUS was inspired by the adult memoir THE SOUL OF AN OCTOPUS by Sy Montgomery. It started in me an octopus obsession! And all of my
obsessions eventually wind up in my writing. Please note: if you want to broaden yourself as a writer (and person!), broaden your reading habits. Read things you wouldn't normally pick up: say, a mechanics magazine or a book about pig farming or 18th century medical techniques. Who knows what ideas will find you?

2. ART - There's no way around it: art inspires art. Which is why I visit art museums and attend concerts and see movies and attend plays and look at photographs online. My first middle grade novel was inspired the the Quilts of Gee's Bend exhibit at the Whitney Museum. Each year during National Poetry Month I present a poem a day on my blog in a series called ARTSPEAK!, each year on a different art them. (2018 was ARTSPEAK! Harlem Renaissance.) Earlier this summer I visited The Original Makers: Folk Art from the Cargo Collection at Birmingham Museum of Art and was fascinated by these wood carvings of Bible stories. Who knows, maybe I will have a character in a new book who carves stories out
illus. by Anna Wadham
of wood! My book DEAR WANDERING WILDEBEEST was inspired by Greg du Toit's amazing photographs, which I saw when poking around National Geographic's website. And earlier this summer I took a pine needle basketmaking class AND a painting (sunflowers!) class. Ideas, ideas, ideas!

illus. by Sean Qualls
and Selina Alko
3. CURRENT EVENTS - I am not much of a newshound or TV person, but I do keep up with a little of what's going on in the world. Often this has inspired my books, like CAN I TOUCH YOUR HAIR? Poems of Race,
illus. by Mique Moriuchi
Mistakes and Friendship (with Charles Waters). Quite a few of my forthcoming books are similarly inspired -- including WILD PEACE, which was just announced at Publisher's Weekly.

And it's not always big societal current events that captivate my imagination -- sometimes it's simpler, seasonal joys, like FRESH DELICIOUS, which celebrates the summer farmers' market. Take some time and think about how you're spending your time... what are your daily habits and pleasures? There may be a book idea in there!

4. HISTORY - Some of my books are inspired by my personal
illus. by Stephanie
history, like DON'T FEED THE BOY, which is set at a contemporary zoo and allowed me to draw upon my former aspirations to be a zoo vet and my time as a teen volunteer at the Birmingham Zoo.

Others are inspired by stories I uncover, like the forthcoming MEET MISS FANCY, which centers on a real-life elephant who lived in Birmingham from 1913-1934. I find these stories by reading and listening and visiting historical museums and attending historical programming.
coming January 2019
with illus. by John

This summer, as a way to get to know our new home (we moved this past December), we've visited 4 local historical museums. At the Ashville Museum and Archives, I came away with a calendar celebrating the county's bicentennial, and oh boy, was it packed with ideas just waiting to be fleshed out! I dog-eared quite a few pages for further investigation. You just never know what stories might be hiding in your own backyard.

Here's the thing: you can only be inspired if you lead an inspiring life -- which means you've got to get out in the world and live a life worth writing about. I promise, all the stories are right there waiting for you. Go!
Find out more about Irene Latham and her books at irenelatham.com.


  1. I am finding more and more that the ideas are there waiting for you. Like Elizabeth Gilbert said in Big Magic. We just need to be open to them and catch them when they come.

  2. I loved this, with its invitation for all writers and artists to give themselves permission to follow random passions wherever they may lead.

  3. You always inspire me, Irene, and this post is packed with more! I can't wait to get my hands on Love, Agnes! Thank you for being you!


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