Ideas Are Everywhere, by Chris Tebbetts
One of the most frequently asked questions I get from kids has always been, “Where do your ideas come from?”
I think part of this is because getting started can feel like an insurmountable obstacle for some young writing students (not to mention their adult counterparts!). On the one hand, kids have a kind of direct line to their own imaginations that I only wish I still had. But on the other hand, when it comes to translating that imagination into a written story, the process can be a bit mysterious, or even overwhelming.
So I've put the question right into my author talk, and always cover this with the classes I visit. It starts with the question itself, of course.
And the first answer, I tell my students, is a relatively simple one for me. Where do my ideas come from?
As a writer, I tell them, I’m always on the lookout for ideas--and I always have my radar attuned to the things I see, the people I overhear, and the places I go. Because you never know when an idea is going to reach out and grab you, if you're paying attention.
Put another way, I tell them, I look for ideas in my….
And what do I mean by that?
Well, for starters, I think about things that have happened to me in the past, like that time when I was twelve, and my cousin and I got lost in Central Park. I've always thought that might make a good story--or part of one--someday. I think a lot about the things that happened to me when I was the same age as the characters I write about today, and try to mine those memories for material.
Or maybe there's something I see in my present-day life that piques my curiosity. Like for instance, the day I was driving on a back country road, and saw this giant pink thing (which turned out to be a bean bag chair) just sitting there by itself….
When I see something like this, I tell students, I don't just wonder "What is it?" I think--What's the story here? How might this giant pink beanbag have landed in this spot? Or, what might happen next now that it has?
And thirdly, I tell them, when I say I get ideas from my future, I’m also saying that I ask myself something that people (not just storytellers) ask themselves all the time.
What if? is the most basic building block we have, when it comes to creating stories. What if I were shrunk down to two inches tall? What if it were always dark on our planet? What if…what if…what if….? And the cool part of that is, it's the kind of thing we do naturally. The trick is to take note of the questions as they pass through our heads, and maybe even write them down for later, so that when it comes time to write a story, you already have a list of ideas that have come to you along the way.
The point I try to make most of all is that ideas are available to us everywhere and all the time. Which isn't to say that writing--much less getting started--is easy to do. But it can be easier if we stop to notice and take stock of the mountain of potential material in our own lives, just waiting to be noticed.